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THE MEANING OE TRUTH 


A SEQUEL TO ‘PRAGMATISM’ 
BY 

WILLIAM JAMES 


LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 

91 AND 93 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 

LONDON, BOMBAY AND CALCUTTA 

1914 



COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY WILLIAM JAMBS 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 


FIRST EDITION, OCTOBER, I9O9 
REPRINTED (TWICE) NOVEMBER, I909 
REPRINTED JANUARY, I9II 
REPRINTED FEBRUARY, 1914 



PREFACE 


The pivotal part of my book named Pragma- 
tism is its account of the relation called ‘truth * 
which may obtain between an idea (opinion, 
belief, statement, or what not) and its object. 
‘Truth/ I there say, ‘is a property of certain 
of our ideas. It means their agreement, as 

IjMt on # i ** 

falsity means their disagreement, with reality. 
Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept 
this definition as a matter of course. 

‘Where our ideas [do] not copy definitely 
their object, what does agreement with that 
object mean ? . . . Pragmatism asks its usual 
question. “ Grant an idea or belief to be true,” 
it says, “what concrete difference will its being 
true make in any one’s actual life ? What ex- 
periences [mdiy] be different from those which 
would obtain if the belief were false? How 
will the truth be realized ? What, in short, is 
the truth’s caph- value in experiential terms?” 
The moment pragmatism asks this question, it 
sees the answer: • True ideas are those that we 



PREFACE 


can assimilate, validate, corroborate , and verify. 
False ideas are those that we cannot. That is 
the practical difference it makes to us to have 
true ideas; that therefore is the meaning of 
truth, for it is all that truth is known as. 

‘ The truth of an idea is not a stagnant pro- 
perty inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. 
It becomes true, is made true by events. Its 
verity is in fact an event, a process, the process 
namely of its verifying itself, its verification. 
Its validity is the process of its valid ation. 1 

‘ To agree in the widest sense with a reality 
can only mean to be guided either straight up 
to it or into its surroundings, or to be put into 
such working touch with it as to handle either 
it or something connected with it better than if 
we disagreed. Better either intellectually or 
practically. . . . Any idea that helps us to 

1 But 'verifiability? I add, ‘is as good as verification* For 
one truth-process completed, there are a million in our lives 
that function in [the] state of nascency* They lead us towards 
direct verification; lead us into the surroundings of the object 
they envisage; and then, if everything runs on harmoniously, 
we are so sure that verification is possible that we omit it, 
and ore usually justified* by all that happens.’ 

vi 



PREFACE 


deal, whether practically or intellectually, with 
either the reality or its belongings, that does n’t 
entangle our progress in frustrations, that fits, 
in fact, and adapts our life to the reality’s 
whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet the 
requirement. It will be true of that reality. 

. ‘ The true, to put it very briefly, is only the 
expedient in the way of our thinking, just as 
the right is only the expedient in the way of our 
behaving. Expedient in almost any fashion, 
and expedient in the long run and on the whole, 
of course; for what meets expediently all the 
experience in sight won’t necessarily meet all 
farther experiences equally satisfactorily. Ex- 
perience, as we know, has ways of boiling over, 
and making us correct our present formulas.’ 

This account of truth, following upon the 
similar ones given by Messrs. Dewey and 
Schiller, has occasioned the liveliest discussion. 
Few critics have defended it, most of them have 
scouted it. It seems evident that the subject is 
a hard one to understand, under its apparent 
simplicity ; and evident also, I think, that the 
definitive settlement of it will mark a tuming- 

vii 



PEEFACE 


point in the history of epistemology, and conse- 
quently in that of general philosophy. In order 
to make my own thought more accessible to 
those who hereafter may have to study the 
question, I have collected in the volume that 
follows all the work of my pen that bears 
directly on the truth-question. My first state- 
ment was in 1884, in the article that begins the 
present volume. The other papers follow in the 
order of their publication. Two or three ap- 
pear now for the first time. 

One of the accusations which I oftenest have 
had to meet is that of making the truth of our re- 
ligious beliefs consist in their ‘feeling good’ to 
us, and in nothing else. I regret to have given 
some excuse for this charge, by the unguarded 
language in which, in the book Pragmatism , I 
spoke of the truth of the belief of certain philo- 
sophers in the absolute. Explaining why I do 
not believe in the absolute myself (p. 78), yet 
finding that it may secure ‘moral holidays’ to 
those who need them, and is true in so far forth 
(if to gain moral holidays be a good), 1 I offered 

1 Op. tit., p. 75. 
viii 



PREFACE 


this as a conciliatory olive-branch to my ene- 
mies. But they, as is only too common with 
such offerings, trampled the gift under foot and 
turned and rent the giver. I had counted too 
much on their good will — oh for the rarity of 
Christian charity under the sun ! Oh for the 
rarity of ordinary secular intelligence also ! I 
had supposed it to be matter of common obser- 
vation that, of two competing views of the uni- 
verse which in all other respects are equal, but 
of which the first denies some vital human need 
while the second satisfies it, the second will be 
favored by sane men for the simple reason that 
it makes the world seem more rational. To 
choose the first view under such circumstances 
would be an ascetic act, an act of philosophic 
self-denial of which no normal human being 
would be guilty. Using the pragmatic test of the 
meaning of concepts, I had shown the concept 
of the absolute to mean nothing but the holiday 
giver, the banisher of cosmic fear. One’s ob- 
jective deliverance, when one says ‘the abso- 
lute exists,’ amounted, on my showing, just to 
this, that * some justification of a feeling of se- 



PREFACE 


curity in presence of the universe,’ exists, and 
that systematically to refuse to cultivate a feel- 
ing of security would be to do violence to a 
tendency in one’s emotional life which might 
well be respected as prophetic. 

Apparently my absolutist critics fail to see 
the workings of their own minds in any such 
picture, so all that I can do is to apologize, and 
take my offering back. The absolute is true in 
no way then, and least of all, by the verdict of 
the critics, in the way which I assigned ! 

My treatment of ‘God,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘de- 
sign’ was similar. Reducing, by the pragmatic 
test, the meaning of each of these concepts to 
its positive experienceable operation, I showed 
them all to mean the same thing, viz., the pre- 
sence of ‘promise’ in the world. ‘God or no . 
God?’ means ‘promise or no promise?’ It 
seems to me that the alternative is objective 
enough, being a question as to whether the 
cosmos has one character or another, even 
though our own provisional answer be made on 
subjective grounds. Nevertheless Christian and 
non-christian critics alike accuse me of sum- 



PREFACE 


moning people to say ‘ God exists/ even when 
he does n’t exist, because forsooth in my philo- 
sophy the ‘truth’ of the saying does n’t really 
mean that he exists in any shape whatever, but 
only thatf to say so feels good.! 

Most of the pragmatist and anti-pragmatist 
warfare is over what the word ‘truth’ shall be 
held to signify, and not over any of the facts 
embodied in truth-situations ; for both prag- 
matists and anti-pragmatists believe in existent 
objects, justas they believe in our ideas of them. 

* The difference is that when the pragmatists 
speak of truth, they mean exclusively some- 
thing about the ideas, namely their workable- 
ness ; whereas when anti-pragmatists speak of 
truth they seem most often to mean something 
about the objects. Since the pragmatist, if he 
agrees that an idea is ‘really’ true, also agrees 
to whatever it says about its object ; and since 
most anti-pragmatists have already come 
round to agreeing that, if the object exists, 
the idea that it does so is workable; there 
would seem so little left to fight about that 
I might well be asked why instead of reprint- 



PREFACE 


ing my share in so much verbal wrangling, 
I do not show my sense of ‘values’ by burning 
it all up. 

I understand the question and I will give my 
answer. I am interested in another doctrine in 
philosophy to which I give the name of radical 
empiricism, and it seems to me that the estab- 
lishment of the pragmatist theory of truth is a 
step of first-rate importance in making radical 
empiricism prevail. Radical empiricism con- 
sists first of a postulate, next of a statement of 
fact, and finally of a generalized conclusion. 

The postulate is that the only things that 
shall be debatable among philosophers shall 
be things definable in terms drawn from expe- 
rience. [Things of an unexperienceable nature 
may exist adjibitum, but they form no part of 
the material for philosophic debate.] 

The statement of fact is that the relations 
between things, conjunctive as well as disjunc- 
tive, are just as much matters of direct particu- 
lar experience, neither more so nor less so, than 
the things themselves. 

The generalized conclusion is that therefore 
xii 



PREFACE 


the parts of experience hold together from next 
to next by relations that are themselves parts of 
experience. The directly apprehended universe 
needs, in short, no extraneous trans-empirical 
connective support, but possesses in its own 
right a concatenated or continuous structure. 

The great obstacle to radical empiricism in 
the contemporary mind is the rooted rationalist 
belief that experience as immediately given is 
all disjunction and no conjunction, and that 
to make one world out of this separateness, 
a higher unifying agency must be there. In 
the prevalent idealism this agency is repre- 
sented as the absolute all-witness which ‘re- 
lates’ things together by throwing ‘categories’ 
over them like a net. The most peculiar and 
unique, perhaps, of all these categories is sup- 
posed to be the truth-relation, which connects 
parts of reality in pairs, making of one of them 
a knower, and of the other a thing known, 
yet which is itself contentless experientially, 
neither describable, explicable, nor reduceable 
to lower terms, and denotable only by uttering 
the name ‘truth.’ 



PREFACE 


The pragmatist view, on the contrary, of the 
truth-relation is that it has a definite content, 
and that everything in it is experienceable. 
Its whole nature can be told in positive terms. 
The ‘workableness 5 which ideas must have, in 
order to be true, means particular workings, 
physical or intellectual, actual or possible, 
which they may set up from next to next in- 
side of concrete experience. Were this prag- 
matic contention admitted, one great point in 
the victory of radical empiricism would also 
be scored, for the relation between an object 
and the idea that truly knows it, is held by 
rationalists to be nothing of this describable 
sort, but to stand outside of all possible tem- 
poral experience; and on the relation, so 
interpreted, rationalism is wonted to make its 
last most obdurate rally. 

Now the anti-pragmatist contentions which I 
try to meet in this volume can be so easily used 
by rationalists as weapons of resistance, not 
only to pragmatism but to radical empiricism 
also (for if the truth-relation were transcendent, 
others might be so too), that I feel strongly 

xiv 



PREFACE 


the strategical importance of having them 
definitely met and got out of the way. What 
our critics most persistently keep saying is that 
though workings go with truth, yet they do not 
constitute it. It is numerically additional to 
them, prior to them, explanatory of them, and 
in no wise to be explained by them, we are 
incessantly told. The first point for our ene- 
mies to establish, therefore, is that ‘something 
numerically additional and prior to the work- 
ings is involved in the truth of an idea.'; Since 
the object is additional, and usually prior, most 
rationalists plead it, and boldly accuse us of 
denying it. This leaves on the bystanders the 
impression — since we cannot reasonably deny 
the existence of the object — that our account 
of truth breaks down, and that our critics have 
driven us from the field. Altho in various places 
in this volume I try to refute the slanderous 
charge that we deny real existence, T will say 
here again, for the sake of emphasis, that the 
existence of the object, whenever the idea as- 
serts it ‘ truly,’ is the only reason, in innumer- 
able cases, why the idea does wopk successfully, 


xv 



PREFACE 

if it work at all ; and that it seems an abuse of 
language, to say the least, to transfer the word 
‘truth’ from the idea to the object’s existence, 
when the falsehood of ideas that won’t work 
is explained by that existence as well as the 
truth of those that will. 

I find this abuse prevailing among my most 
accomplished adversaries. But once establish 
the proper verbal custom, let the word ' truth ’ 
represent a property of the idea, cease to make 
it something mysteriously connected with the 
object known, and the path opens fair and 
wide, as I believe, to the discussion of radi- 
cal empiricism on its merits. The truth of an 
idea wifi then mean only its workings, or that 
in it which by ordinary psychological laws sets 
up those workings; it will mean neither the 
idea’s object, nor anything ‘saltatory’ inside 
the idea, that terms drawn from experience 
cannot describe. 

One word more, ere I end this preface, A 
distinction is sometimes made between Dewey, 
Schiller and myself, as if I, in supposing the 
objects existence, made a concession to popu- 

xvi 



PREFACE 


lar prejudice which they, as more radical prag- 
matists, refuse to make. As I myself under- 
stand these authors, we all three absolutely agree 
in admitting the transcendency of the object 
(provided it be an experieneeable object) to the 
subject, in the truth-relation. Dewey in par- 
ticular has insisted almost ad nauseam that the 
whole meaning of our cognitive states and pro- 
cesses lies in the way they intervene in the con- 
trol and revaluation of independent existences 
or facts. His account of knowledge is not only 
absurd, but meaningless, unless independent 
existences be there of which our ideas take 
account, and for the transformation of which 
they work. But because he and Schiller refuse 
to discuss objects and relations ‘transcendent’ 
in the sense of being altogether trans-experi- 
ential, their critics pounce on sentences in their 
writings to that effect to show that they deny 
the existence within the realm of experience 
of objects external to the ideas that declare 
their presence there . 1 It seems incredible 

1 It gives me pleasure to welcome Professor Carveth Read 
into the pragmatistic church, so far as his epistemology 

xvii 



PREFACE 


that educated and apparently sincere critics 
should so fail to catch their adversary’s point 
of view. 

What misleads so many of them is possibly 
also the fact that the universes of discourse of 
Schiller, Dewey, and myself are panoramas of 
different extent, and that what the one postu- 
lates explicitly the other provisionally leaves 
only in a state of implication, while the reader 
thereupon considers it to be denied. Schiller’s 
universe is the smallest, being essentially a 
psychological one. He starts with but one sort 
of thing, truth'-claims, but is led ultimately to 
the independent objective facts which they 


goes. See his vigorous book, The Metaphysics of Nature , 
2d Edition, Appendix A. (London, Black, 1908.) The work 
What is Reality ? by Francis Howe Johnson (Boston, 1891), 
of which I make the acquaintance only while correcting these 
proofs, contains some striking anticipations of the later prag- 
matist view. The Psychology of Thinking, by Irving E, 
Miller (New York, Macmillan Co., 1909), which has just ap- 
peared, is one of the most convincing pragmatist documents 
yet published, tlio it does not use the word * pragmatism * 
at all. While I am making references, I cannot refrain from 
inserting one to the extraordinarily acute article by H. V* 
Knox, in the Quarterly Review for April, 1909. 

xviii 



PREFACE 


assert, inasmuch as the most successfully vali- 
dated of all claims is that such facts are there. 

*.My universe is more essentially epistemologi- 
cal. I start with two things, the objective facts 
and the claims, and indicate which claims, the 
facts being there, will work successfully as the 
latter’s substitutes and which will not. I call 
the former claims true. Dewey’s panorama, if 
I understand this colleague, is the widest of the 
three, but I refrain from giving my own account 
of its complexity. Suffice it that he holds as 
firmly as I do to objects independent of our 
judgments. If I am wrong in saying this, he 
must correct me. I decline in this matter to be 
corrected at second hand. 

I have not pretended in the following pages 
to consider all the critics of my account of 
truth, such as Messrs. Taylor, Lovejoy, Gardi- 
ner, Bakewell, Creighton, Hibben, Parodi, 
Salter, Carus, Lalande, Mentre, McTaggart, 
G. E. Moore, Ladd and others, especially 
not Professor Schinz, who has published under 
the title of Anti-pragmatisme an amusing 
sociological romance. Some of these critics 


XIX 



PREFACE 


seem to me to labor under an inability almost 
pathetic, to understand the thesis which they 
seek to refute. I imagine that most of their 
difficulties have been answered by anticipa- 
tion elsewhere in this volume, and I am sure 
that my readers will thank me for not adding 
more repetition to the fearful amount that is 
already there. 

95 Irving St., Cambridge (Mass.), 

August, 1909. 



CONTENTS 


I 

The Function of Cognition ....... 1 

n 

The Tigers in India 4$ 

m 

Humanism and Truth 51 * 

IV 

The Relation between Knower and Known . . 102 

V 

The Essence of Humanism 121 

VI 

A Word More about Truth 136 

VII 

Professor Pratt on Truth 162 1 

VIII 

The Pragmatist Account of Truth and its Mis- 
UNDEltSTANDERS 180 

IX 

The Meaning of the Word Truth ..... 217 


XXI 



CONTENTS 


X 

The Existence of Julius Caesar 221 

XI 

The Absolute and the Strenuous Life . . .226 

XII 

Peofessob Hubert on Pragmatism 230 

XIII 

Abstractionism and ‘ Relativismus ’ 246 

XIV 

Two English Critics 272 

XV 

A Dialogue 287 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 




I 


THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 1 

The following inquiry is (to use a distinction 
familiar to readers of Mr. Shad worth Hodgson) 
not an inquiry into the ‘how it comes,’ but into 
the ‘what it is’ of cognition. What we call acts 
of cognition are evidently realized through 
what we call brains and their events, whether 
there be ‘souls’ dynamically connected with 
the brains or not. But with neither brains nor 
souls has this essay any business to transact. 
In it we shall simply assume that cognition is 
produced, somehow, and limit ourselves to ask- 
ing what elements it contains, what factors it 
implies. 

Cognition is a function of consciousness. 
The first factor it implies is therefore a state of 
consciousness wherein the cognition shall take 
place. Having elsewhere used the word ‘feel- 

1 Read before the Aristotelian Society, December 1, 1884, 
and first published in Mind , vol. x (1885). — This, and the 
following articles have received a very slight verbal revision, 
consisting mostly in the omission of redundancy. 

1 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


mg’ to designate generically all states of con- 
sciousness considered subjectively, or without 
respect to their possible function, I shall then 
say that, whatever elements an act of cognition 
may imply besides, it at least implies the exist- 
ence of a feeling. [If the reader share the cur- 
rent antipathy to the word * feeling, ’ he may sub- 
stitute for it, wherever I use it, the word * idea,’ 
taken in the old broad Lockian sense, or he 
may use the clumsy phrase ‘ state of conscious- 
ness,’ or finally he may say ‘thought’ instead.] 
Now it is to be observed that the common 
consent of mankind has agreed that some feel- 
ings are cognitive and some are simple facts 
having a subjective, or, what one might almost 
call a physical, existence, but no such self- 
transcendent function as would be implied in 
their being pieces of knowledge. Our task is 
again limited here. ■ We are not to ask, * How 
is self- transcendence possible?’ We are only 
to ask, ‘ How comes it that common sense has 
assigned a number of cases in which it is as- 
sumed not only to be possible but actual ? And 
what are the marks used by common sense to 

2 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

distinguish those cases from the rest ? * In short, 
our inquiry is a chapter in descriptive psy- 
chology, — hardly anything more. 

Condillac embarked on a quest similar to 
this by his famous hypothesis of a statue to 
which various feelings were successively im- 
parted. Its first feeling was supposed to be one 
of fragrance. But to avoid all possible com- 
plication with the question of genesis, let us not 
attribute even to a statue the possession of our 
imaginary feeling. Let us rather suppose it 
attached to no matter, nor localized at any 
point in space, but left swinging in vacuo, as it 
were, by the direct creative fiat of a god. And 
let us also, to escape entanglement with diffi- 
culties about the physical or psychical nature 
of its ‘object,’ not call it a feeling of fragrance 
or of any other determinate sort, but limit our- 
selves to assuming that it is a feeling of q. What 
is true of it under this abstract name will be no 
less true of it in any more particular shape 
(such as fragrance, pain, hardness) which the 
reader may suppose. 

Now, if this feeling of q be the only creation 
3 



THE MEANING OP TEUTH 


of the god, it will of course form the entire uni- 
verse. And if, to escape the cavils of that large 
class of persons who believe that semper idem 
sentire ac non sentire are the same , 1 we allow the 
feeling to be of as short a duration as they like, 
that universe will only need to last an infini- 
tesimal part of a second. The feeling in ques- 
tion will thus be reduced to its fighting weight, 
and all that befalls it in the way of a cognitive 
function must be held to befall in the brief in- 
stant of its quickly snuffed-out life, — a life, it 
will also be noticed, that has no other moment 

1 ‘The Relativity of Knowledge/ held in this sense, is, it may 
be observed in passing, one of the oddest of philosophic su- 
perstitions. Whatever facts may be cited in its favor are due 
to the properties of nerve-tissue, which may be exhausted by 
too prolonged an excitement. Patients with neuralgias that 
last unremittingly for days can, however, assure us that the 
limits of this nerve-law are pretty widely drawn. But if we 
physically could get a feeling that should last eternally un- 
changed, what atom of logical or psychological argument is 
there to prove that it would not be felt as long as it lasted, 
and felt for just what it is, all that time ? The reason for the 
opposite prejudice seems to be our reluctance to think that so 
dufid a thing as such a feeling would necessarily be, should 
be allowed to fill eternity with its presence. An interminable 
acquaintance, leading to no knowledge-afro?^, — such would 
^be its condition. 


4 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


of consciousness either preceding or follow- 
ing it- 

Well now, can our little feeling, thus left 
alone in the universe, — for the god and we 
psychological critics may be supposed left out 
of the account, — can the feeling, I say, be said 
to have any sort of a cognitive function ? For it 
to know, there must be something to be known. 
What is there, on the present supposition ? One 
may reply, ‘the feeling’s content q.’ But does 
it not seem more proper to call this the feeling’s 
quality than its content? Does not the word 
‘content’ suggest that the feeling has already 
dirempted itself as an act from its content as an 
object ? And would it be quite safe to assume 
so promptly that the quality qoi a feeling is one 
and the same thing with a feeling of the qual- 
ity q ? The quality q, so far, is an entirely sub- 
jective fact which the feeling carries so to 
speak endogenously, or in its pocket. If any 
one pleases to dignify so simple a fact as this 
by the name of knowledge, of course nothing 
can prevent him. But let us keep closer to the 
path of common usage, and reserve the name 
5 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


knowledge for the cognition of ‘realities/ 
meaning by realities things that exist inde- 
pendently of the feeling through which their 
cognition occurs. Tf the content of the feeling 
occur nowhere in the universe outside of the 
feeling itself, and perish with the feeling, com- 
mon usage refuses to call it a reality, and 
brands it as a subjective feature of the feeling’s 
constitution, or at the most as the feeling’s 
dream. 

For the feeling to be cognitive in the specific 
sense, then, it must be self-transcendent ; and 
we must prevail upon the god to create a reality 
outside of it to correspond to its intrinsic qual- 
ity q. Thus only can it be redeemed from the 
condition of being a solipsism. If now the new- 
created reality resemble the feeling’s quality q, 
I say that the feeling may be held by us to be 
cognizant of that reality. 

This first instalment of my thesis is sure to be 
attacked. But one word before defending it. 
'‘Reality’ has become our warrant for calling a 
feeling cognitive ; but what becomes our war- 
rant for calling anything reality P The only 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

reply is — the faith of the present critic or in- 
quirer. At every moment of his life he finds 
himself subject to a belief in some realities, even 
though his realities of this year should prove to 
be his illusions of the next. Whenever he finds 
that the feeling he is studying contemplates 
what he himself regards as a reality, he must 
of course admit the feeling itself to be truly 
cognitive. We are ourselves the critics here; 
and we shall find our burden much lightened 
by being allowed to take reality in this relative 
and provisional way. Every science must make 
some assumptions. ErTcenntnisstheoretiker are 
but fallible mortals. When they study the 
function of cognition, they do it by means of 
the same function in themselves. And knowing 
that the fountain cannot go higher than its 
source, we should promptly confess that our 
results in this field are affected by our own lia- 
bility to err. The most we can claim is, that 
what we say about cognition may be counted as 
true as what we say about anything else. If our 
hearers agree with us about what are to be held 
'realities,’ they will perhaps also agree to the 

7 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


reality of our doctrine of the way in which 
they are known. We cannot ask for more. 

Our terminology shall follow the spirit of 
these remarks. We will deny the function of 
knowledge to any feeling whose quality or con- 
tent we do not ourselves believe to exist outside 
of that feeling as well as in it. We may call 
such a feeling a dream if we like ; we shall have 
to see later whether we can call it a fiction or 
an error. 

To revert now to our thesis. Some persons 
will immediately cry out, ‘How can a reality 
resemble a feeling?’ Here we find how wise 
we were to name the quality of the feeling by 
an algebraic letter q. We flank the whole diffi- 
culty of resemblance between an inner state and 
an outward reality, by leaving it free to any 
one to postulate as the reality whatever sort of 
thing he thinks can resemble a feeling, — if not 
an outward thing, then another feeling like the 
first one, — the mere feeling q in the critic’s 
mind for example. Evading thus this objec- 
tion, we turn to another which is sure to be 
urged. 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

It will come from those philosophers to 
whom ‘thought/ in the sense of a knowledge of 
relations, is the all in all of mental life ; and who 
hold a merely feeling consciousness to be no 
better — one would sometimes say from their 
utterances, a good deal worse — than no con- 
sciousness at all. Such phrases as these, for 
example, are common to-day in the mouths of 
those who claim to walk in the footprints of 
Kant and Hegel rather than in the ancestral 
English paths : ‘A perception detached from all 
others, “left out of the heap we call a mind,” 
being out of all relation, has no qualities — is 
simply nothing. We can no more consider it 
than we can see vacancy.’ ‘ It is simply in itself 
fleeting, momentary, unnameable (because 
while we name it it has become another), and 
for the very same reason unknowable, the very 
negation of knowability.’ ‘Exclude from what 
we have considered real all qualities consti- 
tuted by relation, we find that none are left/ 

Altho such citations as these from the writ- 
ings of Professor Green might be multiplied al- 
most indefinitely, they would hardly repay the 

9 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

pains of collection, so egregiously false is the 
doctrine they teach. Our little supposed feel- 
ing, whatever it may be, from the cognitive 
point of view, whether a bit of knowledge or a 
dream, is certainly no psychical zero. It is a 
most positively and definitely qualified inner 
fact, with a complexion all its own. Of course 
there are many mental facts which it is not. It 
knows q, if q be a reality, with a very minimum 
of knowledge. It neither dates nor locates it. 
It neither classes nor names it. And it neither 
knows itself as a feeling, nor contrasts itself 
with other feelings, nor estimates its own dura- 
tion or intensity. It is, in short, if there is no 
more of it than this, a most dumb and helpless 
and useless kind of thing. 

But if we must describe it by so many nega- 
tions, and if it can say nothing about itself or 
about anything else, by what right do we deny 
that it is a psychical zero ? And may not the 
‘relationists’ be right after all? 

In the innocent looking word ‘about’ lies the 
solution of this riddle; and a simple enough 
solution it is when frankly looked at. A quo- 

10 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


tation from a too seldom quoted book, the 
Exploratio Philosophica of John Grote (Lon- 
don, 1865), p. 60, will form the best introduc- 
tion to it. 

‘ Our knowledge,’ writes Grote, ‘ may be con- 
templated in either of two ways, or, to use other 
words, we may speak in a double manner of the 
“ object” of knowledge. That is, we may either 
use language thus : we know a thing, a man, 
etc. ; or we may use it thus : we know such and 
such things about the thing, the man, etc. Lan- 
guage in general, following its true logical 
instinct, distinguishes between these two ap- 
plications of the notion of knowledge, the one 
being yv&vai, noscere, Jcennen, connaitre , the 
other being etSevcu, scire, wissen, savoir. In 
the origin, the former may be considered more 
what I have called phenomenal — it is the 
notion of knowledge as acquaintance or famil- 
iarity with what is known; which notion is 
perhaps more akin to the phenomenal bodily 
communication, and is less purely intellectual 
than the other; it is the kind of knowledge 
which we have of a thing by the presentation 

11 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


to the senses or the representation of it in 
picture or type, a Vorstellung. The other, 
which is what we express in judgments or pro- 
positions, what is embodied in Begriffe or 
concepts without any necessary imaginative 
representation, is in its origin the more intel- 
lectual notion of knowledge. There is no 
reason, however, why we should not express 
our knowledge, whatever its kind, in either 
manner, provided only we do not confusedly 
express it, in the same proposition or piece of 
reasoning, in both.’ 

Now obviously if our supposed feeling of q 
is (if knowledge at all) only knowledge of the 
mere acquaintance-type, it is milking a he- 
goat, as the ancients would have said, to try to 
extract from it any deliverance about anything 
under the sun, even about itself. And it is as 
unjust, after our failure, to turn upon it and 
call it a psychical nothing, as it would be, after 
our fruitless attack upon the billy-goat, to pro- 
claim the non-lactiferous character of the 
whole goat-tribe. But the entire industry of the 
Hegelian school in trying to shove simple sen- 

12 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

sation out of the pale of philosophic recogni- 
tion is founded on this false issue. It is always 
the * speechlessness ’ of sensation, its inability 
to make any ‘statement,’ 1 that is held to make 
the very notion of it meaningless, and to justify 
the student of knowledge in scouting it out of 
existence. ‘Significance,’ in the sense of stand- 
ing as the sign of other mental states, is taken 
to be the sole function of what mental states 
we have; and from the perception that our 
little primitive sensation has as yet no signifi- 
cance in this literal sense, it is an easy step to 
call it first meaningless, next senseless, then 
vacuous, and finally to brand it as absurd and 
inadmissible. But in this universal liquida- 
tion, this everlasting slip, slip, slip, of direct 
acquaintance into knowledge-a&otrf, until at 
last nothing is left about which the knowledge 
can be supposed to obtain, does not all ‘sig- 
nificance’ depart from the situation? And 
when our knowledge about things has reached 
its never so complicated perfection, must there 

1 See, for example. Green’s Introduction to Hume’s Trea- 
tise of Human Nature, p. 36. 

13 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


not needs abide alongside of it and inextri- 
cably mixed in with it some acquaintance with 
what things all this knowledge is about? 

Now, our supposed little feeling gives a 
what; and if other feelings should succeed 
which remember the first, its what may stand 
as subject or predicate of some piece of know- 
ledge-about, of some judgment, perceiving re- 
lations between it and other whats which the 
other feelings may know. The hitherto dumb 
q will then receive a name and be no longer 
speechless. But every name, as students of 
logic know, has its ‘ denotation’ ; and the deno- 
tation always means some reality or content, 
relationless ab extra or with its internal rela- 
tions unanalyzed, like the q which our primi- 
tive sensation is supposed to know. No rela- 
tion-expressing proposition is possible except 
on the basis of a preliminary acquaintance 
with such ‘facts,’ with such contents, as this. 
Let the q be fragrance, let it be toothache, or 
let it be a more complex kind of feeling, like 
that of the full-moon swimming in her blue 
abyss, it must first come in that simple shape, 

14 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


and be beld fast in that first intention, before 
any knowledge about it can be attained. The 
knowledge about it is it with a context added. 
Undo it, and what is added cannot be con- 
text . l 

Let us say no more then about this objec- 
tion, but enlarge our thesis, thus : If there be 
in the universe a q other than the q in the feel- 
ing, the latter may have acquaintance with an 
entity ejective to itself ; an acquaintance more- 
over, which, as mere acquaintance, it would 
be hard to imagine susceptible either of im- 
provement or increase, being in its way com- 
plete; and which would oblige us (so long as 
we refuse not to call acquaintance knowledge) 
to say not only that the feeling is cognitive, but 
that all qualities of feeling, so long as there is 

1 If A enters and B exclaims, ‘Did n’t you see my brother 
on the stairs ?’ we all hold that A may answer, ‘I saw him, but 
did n’t know he was your brother’ ; ignorance of brotherhood 
not abolishing power to see. But those who, on account of the 
unrelatedness of the first facts with which we become ac- 
quainted, deny them to be ‘known’ to us, ought in consistency 
to maintain that if A did not perceive the relationship of the 
man on the stairs to B, it was impossible he should have 
noticed him at all. 


15 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


anything outside of them which they resemble, 
are feelings of qualities of existence, and per- 
ceptions of outward fact. 

The point of this vindication of the cogni- 
tive function of the first feeling lies, it will be 
noticed, in the discovery that q does exist else- 
where than in it. In case this discovery were 
not made, we could not be sure the feeling was 
cognitive ; and in case there were nothing out- 
side to be discovered, we should have to call 
the feeling a dream. But the feeling itself 
cannot make the discovery. Its own q is the 
only q it grasps; and its own nature is not a 
particle altered by having the self-transcend- 
ent function of cognition either added to it 
or taken away. The function is accidental; 
synthetic, not analytic; and falls outside and 
not inside its being . 1 

1 It seems odd to call so important a function accidental, 
but I do not see how we can mend the matter. Just as, if we 
start with the reality and ask how it may come to be known, 
we can only reply by invoking a feeling which shall reconstruct 
it in its own more private fashion ; so, if we start with the feel- 
ing and ask how it may come to know, we can only reply by 
invoking a reality which shall reconstruct it in its own more 
public fashion. In either case, however, the datum we start 

16 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

A feeling feels as a gun shoots. If there be 
nothing to be felt or hit, they discharge them- 
selves ins blaue hinein. If, however, some- 
thing starts up opposite them, they no longer 
simply shoot or feel, they hit and know. 

But with this arises a worse objection than 
any yet made. We the critics look on and see 
a real q and a feeling of q; and because the two 
resemble each other, we say the one knows the 
other. But what right have we to say this until 
we know that the feeling of q means to stand 
for or represent just that same other q ? Sup- 
pose, instead of one q, a number of real q’s in 
the field. If the gun shoots and hits, we can 
easily see which one of them it hits. But how 
can we distinguish which one the feeling 

with remains just what it was. One may easily get lost in ver- 
bal mysteries about the difference between quality of feeling 
and feeling of quality, between receiving and reconstructing 
the knowledge of a reality. But at the end we must confess 
that the notion of real cognition involves an unmediated dual- 
ism of the knower and the known. See Bowne’s Metaphysics , 
New York, 1882, pp. 403-412, and various passages in Lotze, 
e g., Logic, § 308. [ 6 Unmediated * is a bad word to have 

used. — 1909.] 


17 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

knows ? It knows the one it stands for. But 
which one does it stand for ? It declares no in- 
tention in this respect. It merely resembles; 
it resembles all indifferently; and resembling, 
per se, is not necessarily representing or stand- 
ing-for at ail. Eggs resemble each other, but 
do not on that account represent, stand for, 
or know each other. And if you say this is 
because neither of them is a feeling , then imag- 
ine the world to consist of nothing but tooth- 
aches, which are feelings, feelings resembling 
each other exactly, — would they know each 
other the better for all that ? 

The case of q being a bare quality like that 
of toothache-pain is quite different from that 
of its being a concrete individual thing. There 
is practically no test for deciding whether the 
feeling of a bare quality means to represent it 
or not. It can do nothing to the quality beyond 
resembling it, simply because an abstract qual- 
ity is a thing to which nothing can be done. 
Being without context or environment or prin- 
cipium individuationis, a quiddity with no 
hsecceity, a platonic idea, even duplicate edi- 

18 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

lions of such a quality (were they possible), 
would be indiscernible, and no sign could be 
given, no result altered, whether the feeling 
meant to stand for this edition or for that, or 
whether it simply resembled the quality with- 
out meaning to stand for it at all. 

If now we grant a genuine pluralism of edi- 
tions to the quality q, by assigning to each a 
context which shall distinguish it from its mates, 
we may proceed to explain which edition of it 
the feeling knows, by extending our principle 
of resemblance to the context too, and saying 
the feeling knows the particular q whose con- 
text it most exactly duplicates. But here again 
the theoretic doubt recurs: duplication and 
coincidence, are they knowledge? The gun 
shows which q it points to and hits, by break- 
ing it. Until the feeling can show us which q 
it points to and knows, by some equally fla- 
grant token, why are we not free to deny that 
it either points to or knows any one of the real 
q ’ s at all, and to affirm that the word ‘resem- 
blance’ exhaustively describes its relation to 
the reality? 


19 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


* Well, as a matter of fact, every actual feeling 
does show us, quite as flagrantly as the gun, 
which q it points to ; and practically in concrete 
cases the matter is decided by an element we 
have hitherto left out. Let us pass from ab- 
stractions to possible instances, and ask our 
obliging deus ex machina to frame for us a 
richer world. Let him send me, for example, 
a dream of the death of a certain man, and let 
him simultaneously cause the man to die. How 
would our practical instinct spontaneously de- 
cide whether this were a case of cognition of 
the reality, or only a sort of marvellous coin- 
cidence of a resembling reality with my dream ? 
Just such puzzling cases as this are what the 
‘society for psychical research’ is busily col- 
lecting and trying to interpret in the most rea- 
sonable way. 

If my dream were the only one of the kind I 
ever had in my life, if the context of the death 
in the dream differed in many particulars from 
the real death’s context, and if my dream led 
me to no action about the death, unquestion- 
ably we should all call it a strange coincidence, 

20 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


and naught besides. But if the death in the 
dream had a long context, agreeing point for 
point with every feature that attended the real 
death ; if I were constantly having such dreams, 
all equally perfect, and if on awaking I had a 
habit of acting immediately as if they were 
true and so getting ‘the start’ of my more 
tardily instructed neighbors, — we should in 
all probability have to admit that I had some 
mysterious kind of clairvoyant power, that my 
dreams in an inscrutable way meant just those 
realities they figured, and that the word * coin- 
cidence ’ failed to touch the root of the matter. 
And whatever doubts any one preserved would 
completely vanish, if it should appear that from 
the midst of my dream I had the power of in- 
terfering with the course of the reality, and 
making the events in it turn this way or that, ac- 
cording as I dreamed they should. Then at least 
it would be certain that my waking critics and 
my dreaming self were dealing with the same. 

And thus do men invariably decide such a 
question. The falling of the dream’s 'practical 
consequences into the real world, and the extent 

21 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

of the resemblance between the two worlds 
are the criteria they instinctively use. 1 All 
feeling is for the sake of action, all feeling re- 
sults in action, — to-day no argument is needed 

1 The thoroughgoing objector might, it is true, still return 
to the charge, and, granting a dream which should completely 
mirror the real universe, and all the actions dreamed in which 
should be instantly matched by duplicate actions in this uni- 
verse, still insist that this is nothing more than harmony, and 
that it is as far as ever from being made clear whether the 
dream-world refers to that other world, all of whose details 
it so closely copies. This objection leads deep into metaphysics, 
I do not impugn its importance, and justice obliges me to say 
that but for the teachings of my colleague, Dr. Josiah Royce, 
I should neither have grasped its full force nor made my own 
practical and psychological point of view as clear to myself 
as it is. On this occasion I prefer to stick steadfastly to that 
point of view; but I hope that Dr. Royce’ s more fundamental 
criticism of the function of cognition may ere long see the light. 
[I referred in this note to Boyce’s Religious aspect of philoso- 
phy, then about to be published. This powerful book main- 
tained that the notion of referring involved that of an inclusive 
mind that shall own both the real q and the mental q, and use 
the latter expressly as a representative symbol of the former. 
At the time I could not refute this transcendentalist opinion. 
Later, largely through the influence of Professor D. S. Miller 
(see his essay 4 The meaning of truth and error/ in the Philo- 
sophical Review for 1893, vol. 2 p. 403) I came to see that 
any definitely experienceable workings would serve as inter- 
mediaries quite as well as the absolute mind’s intentions 
would.] 


22 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

to prove these truths. But by a most singular 
disposition of nature which we may conceive 
to have been different, ray feelings act wpon 
the realities within ray critic’s world. Unless, 
then, my critic can prove that my feeling does 
not ‘point to’ those realities which it acts upon, 
how can he continue to doubt that he and I 
are alike cognizant of one and the same real 
world ? If the action is performed in one world, 
that must be the world the feeling intends ; if 
in another world, that is the world the feeling 
has in mind. If your feeling bear no fruits in 
my world, I call it utterly detached from my 
world; I call it a solipsism, and call its world 
a dream-world. If your toothache do not 
prompt you to ad as if I had a toothache, nor 
even as if I had a separate existence; if you 
neither say to me, * I know now how you must 
suffer!’ nor tell me of a remedy, I deny that 
your feeling, however it may resemble mine, is 
really cognizant of mine. It gives no sign of 
being cognizant, and such a sign is absolutely 
necessary to my admission that it is. 

Before I can think you to mean my world, 
23 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

you must affect my world ; before I can think 
you to mean much of it, you must affect much 
of it ; and before I can be sure you mean it as 
I do, you must affect it just as I should if I were 
in your place. Then I, your critic, will gladly 
believe that we are thinking, not only of the 
same reality, but that we are thinking it alike , 
and thinking of much of its extent. 

Without the practical effects of our neigh- 
bor’s feelings on our own world, we should 
never suspect the existence of our neighbor’s 
feelings at all, and of course should never find 
ourselves playing the critic as we do in this 
article. The constitution of nature is very pe- 
culiar. In the world of each of us are certain 
objects called human bodies, which move 
about and act on all the other objects there, 
and the occasions of their action are in the 
main what the occasions of our action would 
be, were they our bodies. They use words and 
gestures, which, if we used them, would have 
thoughts behind them, — no mere thoughts 
uberhau'pt, however, but strictly determinate 
thoughts. I think you have the notion of fire 

24 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

in general, because I see you act towards this 
fire in my room just as I act towards it, — 
poke it and present your person towards it, 
and so forth. But that binds me to believe that 
if you feel ‘fire’ at all, this is the fire you feel. 
As a matter of fact, whenever we constitute 
ourselves into psychological critics, it is not 
by dint of discovering which reality a feeling 
‘resembles’ that we find out which reality it 
means. We become first aware of which one 
it means, and then we suppose that to be the 
one it resembles. We see each other looking at 
the same objects, pointing to them and turning 
them over in various ways, and thereupon we 
hope and trust that all of our several feelings 
resemble the reality and each other. But this 
is a thing of which we are never theoretically 
sure. Still, it would practically be a case of 
grilbelsucht, if a ruffian were assaulting and 
drubbing my body, to spend much time in 
subtle speculation either as to whether his 
vision of my body resembled mine, or as to 
whether the body he really meant to insult were 
not some body in his mind’s eye, altogether 

25 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

other from my own. The practical point of 
view brushes such metaphysical cobwebs 
away. If what he have in mind be not my 
body, why call we it a body at all ? His mind 
is inferred by me as a term, to whose existence 
we trace the things that happen. The inference 
is quite void if the term, once inferred, be sepa- 
rated from its connection with the body that 
made me infer it, and connected with another 
that is not mine at all. No matter for the meta- 
physical puzzle of how our two minds, the ruf- 
fian’s and mine, can mean the same body. Men 
who see each other’s bodies sharing the same 
space, treading the same earth, splashing the 
same water, making the same air resonant, and 
pursuing the same game and eating out of the 
same dish, will never practically believe in a 
pluralism of solipsistic worlds. 

Where, however, the actions of one mind 
seem to take no effect in the world of the other, 
the case is different. This is what happens in 
poetry and fiction. Every one knows Ivanhoe, 
for example; but so long as we stick to the 
story pure and simple without regard to the 

26 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


facts of its production, few would hesitate to 
admit that there are as many different Ivan- 
hoes as there are different minds cognizant of 
the story . 1 The fact that all these Ivanhoes 

1 That is, there is no real ‘Ivanhoe,’ not even the one in Sir 
Walter Scott’s mind as he was writing the story. That one is 
only the first one of the Ivanhoe-solipsisms. It is quite true 
we can make it the real Ivanhoe if we like, and then say that 
the other Ivanhoes know it or do not know it, according as 
they refer to and resemble it or no. This is done by bringing 
in Sir Walter Scott himself as the author of the real Ivanhoe, 
and so making a complex object of both. This object, how- 
ever, is not a story pure and simple. It has dynamic relations 
with the world common to the experience of all the readers. Sir 
Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe got itself printed in volumes which we 
all can handle, and to any one of which we can refer to see 
which of our versions be the true one, i e. 9 the original one of 
Scott himself. We can see the manuscript; in short we can get 
back to the Ivanhoe in Scott’s mind by many an avenue and 
channel of this real world of our experience, — a thing we can 
by no means do with either the Ivanhoe or the Rebecca, either 
the Templar or the Isaac of York, of the story taken simply 
as such, and detached from the conditions of its production. 
Everywhere, then, we have the same test: can we pass con- 
tinuously from two objects in two minds to a third object 
which seems to be in both minds, because each mind feels every 
modification imprinted on it by the other ? If so, the first two 
objects named are derivatives, to say the least, from the same 
third object, and may be held, if they resemble each other, to 
refer to one and the same reality. 

27 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

resemble each other does not prove the contrary. 
But if an alteration invented by one man in 
his version were to reverberate immediately 
through all the other versions, and produce 
changes therein, we should then easily agree 
that all these thinkers were thinking the same 
Ivanhoe, and that, fiction or no fiction, it formed 
a little world common to them all. 

Having reached this point, we may take up 
our thesis and improve it again. Still calling 
the reality by the name of q and letting the 
critic’s feeling vouch for it, we can say that any 
other feeling will be held cognizant of q, pro- 
vided it both resemble q, and refer to q, as 
shown by its either modifying q directly, or 
modifying some other reality, p or r, which the 
critic knows to be continuous with q . Or more 
shortly, thus : 'The feeling of q knows whatever 
reality it resembles, and either directly or indi- 
rectly operates on. If it resemble without oper- 
ating, it is a dream; if it operate without re- 
sembling, it is an error . 1 

1 Among such errors are those cases in which our feeling 
operates on a reality which it does partially resemble, and yet 

28 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


It is to be feared that the reader may con- 
sider this formula rather insignificant and ob- 
vious, and hardly worth the labor of so many 

does not intend: as for instance, when I take up your um- 
brella, meaning to take my own. I cannot be said here either 
to know your umbrella, or my own, which latter my feeling 
more completely resembles I am mistaking them both, mis- 
representing their context, etc. 

We have spoken in the text as if the critic were necessarily 
one mind, and the feeling criticised another. But the criticised 
feeling and its critic may be earlier and later feelings of the 
same mind, and here it might seem that we could dispense with 
the notion of operating, to prove that critic and criticised are 
referring to and meaning to represent the same. We think we 
see our past feelings directly, and know what they refer to 
without appeal. At the worst, we can always fix the intention 
of our present feeling and make it refer to the same reality to 
which any one of our past feelings may have referred. So we 
need no ‘operating’ here, to make sure that the feeling and 
its critic mean the same real q. Well, all the better if this is so ! 
We have covered the more complex and difficult case in our 
text, and we may let this easier one go. The main thing at 
present is to stick to practical psychology, and ignore meta- 
physical difficulties 

One more remark. Our formula contains, it will be ob- 
served, nothing to correspond to the great principle of cognu 
tion laid down by Professor Ferrier in his Institutes of Meta - 
'physic and apparently adopted by all the followers of Fichte, 
the principle, namely, that for knowledge to be constituted 
there must be knowledge of the knowing mind along with 
whatever else is known: not q, as we have supposed, but q 

29 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

pages, especially when he considers that the 
only cases to which it applies are percepts, and 
that the whole field of symbolic or conceptual 
thinking seems to elude its grasp. Where the 
reality is either a material thing or act, or a 
state of the critic’s consciousness, I may both 
mirror it in my mind and operate upon it — in 
the latter case indirectly, of course — as soon 
as I perceive it. But there are many cognitions, 
universally allowed to be such, which neither 
mirror nor operate on their realities. 

In the whole field of symbolic thought we 
are universally held both to intend, to speak of, 
and to reach conclusions about — to know 
in short — particular realities, without having 
in our subjective consciousness any mind-stuff 
that resembles them even in a remote degree. 

flm myself, must be the least I can know. It is certain that 
the common sense of mankind never dreams of using any such 
principle when it tries to discriminate between conscious states 
that are knowledge and conscious states that are not. So that 
Ferrier’s principle, if it have any relevancy at all, must have 
relevancy to the metaphysical possibility of consciousness at 
large, and not to the practically recognized constitution of 
cognitive consciousness. We may therefore pass it by without 
further notice here. 


30 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

We are instructed about them by language 
which awakens no consciousness beyond its 
sound; and we know which realities they are 
by the faintest and most fragmentary glimpse 
of some remote context they may have and by 
no direct imagination of themselves. As minds 
may differ here, let me speak in the first per- 
son. I am sure that my own current thinking 
has words for its almost exclusive subjective 
material, words which are made intelligible by 
being referred to some reality that lies beyond 
the horizon of direct consciousness, and of 
which I am only aware as of a terminal more 
existing in a certain direction, to which the 
words might lead but do not lead yet. The 
subject , or topic, of the words is usually some- 
thing towards which I mentally seem to pitch 
them in a backward way, almost as I might 
jerk my thumb over my shoulder to point at 
something, without looking round, if I were 
only entirely sure that it was there. “The up- 
shot, or conclusion, of the words is something 
towards which I seem to incline my head for- 
wards, as if giving assent to its existence, 

31 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


tho all my mind’s eye catches sight of may 
be some tatter of an image connected with it, 
which tatter, however, if only endued with the 
feeling of familiarity and reality, makes me 
feel that the whole to which it belongs is ra- 
tional and real, and fit to be let pass. 

Here then is cognitive consciousness on a 
large scale, and yet what it knows, it hardly 
resembles in the least degree. The formula 
last laid down for our thesis must therefore be 
made more complete. We may now express it 
thus : A percept knows whatever reality it di- 
rectly or indirectly operates on and resembles; 
a conceptual feeling, or thought knows 1 a reality, 
whenever it actually or potentially terminates 
in a percept that operates on, or resembles that 
reality, or is otherwise connected with it or with 
its context. The latter percept may be either 
sensation or sensorial idea; and when I say 
the thought must terminate in such a percept, 
I mean that it must ultimately be capable of 
leading up thereto, — by the way of practical 

1 Is an incomplete ‘thought about’ that reality, that reality 
is its ‘topic,’ etc. 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

experience, if the terminal feeling be a sensa- 
tion ; by the way of logical or habitual sugges- 
tion, if it be only an image in the mind. 

Let an illustration make this plainer. I open 
the first book I take up, and read the first sen- 
tence that meets my eye: ‘Newton saw the 
handiwork of God in the heavens as plainly 
as Paley in the animal kingdom.’ I immedi- 
ately look back and try to analyze the subject- 
ive state in which I rapidly apprehended this 
sentence as I read it. In the first place there 
was an obvious feeling that the sentence was 
intelligible and rational and related to the 
world of realities. There was also a sense of 
agreement or harmony between ‘Newton,’ 
‘Paley,’ and ‘God.’ There was no apparent 
image connected with the words ‘heavens,’ or 
‘handiwork,’ or ‘God’; they were words 
merely. With ‘animal kingdom’ I think there 
was the faintest consciousness (it may possi- 
bly have been an image of the steps) of the 
Museum of Zoology in the town of Cambridge 
where I write. With ‘Paley’ there was an 
equally faint consciousness of a small dark 

S3 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

leather book; and with ‘Newton’ a pretty dis- 
tinct vision of the right-hand lower corner of 
a curling periwig. This is all the mind-stuff I 
can discover in my first consciousness of the 
meaning of this sentence, and I am afraid that 
even not all of this would have been present 
had I come upon the sentence in a genuine 
reading of the book, and not picked it out for 
an experiment. And yet my consciousness was 
truly cognitive. The sentence is ‘about reali- 
ties’ which my psychological critic — for we 
must not forget him — acknowledges to be 
such, even as he acknowledges my distinct 
feeling that they are realities, and my acqui- 
escence in the general rightness of what I read 
of them, to be true knowledge on my part. 

Now what justifies my critic in being as 
lenient as this? This singularly inadequate 
consciousness of mine, made up of symbols that 
neither resemble nor affect the realities they 
stand for, — how can he be sure it is cognizant 
of the very realities he has himself in mind ? 

He is sure because in countless like cases 
he has seen such inadequate and symbolic 

34 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

thoughts, by developing themselves, terminate 
in percepts that practically modified and pre- 
sumably resembled his own. By ‘developing’ 
themselves is meant obeying their tendencies, 
following up the suggestions nascently present 
in them, working in the direction in which they 
seem to point, clearing up the penumbra, mak- 
ing distinct the halo, unravelling the fringe, 
which is part of their composition, and in the 
midst of which their more substantive kernel 
of subjective content seems consciously to lie. 
Thus I may develop my thought in the Paley 
direction by procuring the brown leather vol- 
ume and bringing the passages about the ani- 
mal kingdom before the critic’s eyes. I may 
satisfy him that the words mean for me just 
what they mean for him, by showing him in 
concreto the very animals and their arrange- 
ments, of which the pages treat. I may get 
Newton’s works and portraits; or if I follow 
the line of suggestion of the wig, I may smother 
my critic in seventeenth-century matters per- 
taining to Newton’s environment, to show 
that the word ‘Newton’ has the same locus 
SS 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

and relations in both our minds. Finally I 
may, by act and word, persuade him that what 
I mean by God and the heavens and the 
analogy of the handiworks, is just what he 
means also. 

My demonstration in the last resort is to 
his senses. My thought makes me act on his 
senses much as he might himself act on them, 
were he pursuing the consequences of a per- 
ception of his own. Practically then my thought 
terminates in his realities. He willingly sup- 
poses it, therefore, to be of them, and inwardly 
to resemble what his own thought would be, 
were it of the same symbolic sort as mine. And 
the pivot and fulcrum and support of his men- 
tal persuasion, is the sensible operation which 
my thought leads me, or may lead, to effect — 
the bringing of Paley’s book, of Newton’s por- 
trait, etc., before his very eyes. 

In the last analysis, then, we believe that we 
all know and think about and talk about the 
same world, because we believe our percepts 
are possessed by us in common. And we believe 
this because the percepts of each one of us seem 

36 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 


to be changed in consequence of changes in the 
percepts of some one else. What I am for you 
is in the first instance a percept of your own. 
Unexpectedly, however, I open and show you 
a book, uttering certain sounds the while. 
These acts are also your percepts, but they so 
resemble acts of yours with feelings prompting 
them, that you cannot doubt I have the feel- 
ings too, or that the book is one book felt in 
both our worlds. That it is felt in the same 
way, that my feelings of it resemble yours, is 
something of which we never can be sure, but 
which we assume as the simplest hypothesis 
that meets the case. As a matter of fact, we 
never are sure of it, and, as erlcenntnisstheore- 
tiker, we can only say that of feelings that 
should not resemble each other, both could not 
know the same thing at the same time in the 
same way . 1 If each holds to its own percept as 
the reality, it is bound to say of the other per- 
cept, that, though it may intend that reality, 
and prove this by working change upon it, 

1 Though both might terminate in the same thing and be 
incomplete thoughts ‘about’ it. 

37 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

yet, if it do not resemble it, it is all false and 
wrong . 1 

If this be so of percepts, how much more so 
of higher modes of thought! Even in the 
sphere of sensation individuals are probably 
different enough. Comparative study of the 
simplest conceptual elements seems to show 
a wider divergence still. And when it comes 
to general theories and emotional attitudes 
towards life, it is indeed time to say with Thack- 
eray, * My friend, two different universes walk 
about under your hat and under mine.’ 

What can save us at all and prevent us from 
flying asunder into a chaos of mutually repel- 
lent solipsisms? Through what can our sev- 
eral minds commune? Through nothing but 
the mutual resemblance of those of our per- 
ceptual feelings which have this power of 

1 The difference between Idealism and Realism is imma- 
terial here. What is said in the text is consistent with either 
theory. A law by which my percept shall change yours di- 
rectly is no more mysterious than a law by which it shall first 
change a physical reality, and then the reahty change yours. 
In either case you and I seem knit into a continuous world, 
and not to form a pair of solipsisms. 


38 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

modifying one another, which are mere dumb 
lcnowledges-of -acquaintance, and which, must 
also resemble their realities or not know them 
aright at all. In such pieces of knowledge-of- 
acquaintance all our knowledge-about must 
end, and carry a sense of this possible termina- 
tion as part of its content. These percepts, 
these termini , these sensible things, these mere 
matters-of- acquaintance, are the only realities 
we ever directly know, and the whole history of 
our thought is the history of our substitution 
of one of them for another, and the reduction 
of the substitute to the status of a conceptual 
sign. Contemned though they be by some 
thinkers, these sensations are the mother- 
earth, the anchorage, the stable rock, the first 
and last limits, the terminus a quo and the 
terminus ad quern of the mind. To find such 
sensational termini should be our aim with 
all our higher thought. They end discussion ; 
they destroy the false conceit of knowledge; 
and without them we are all at sea with each 
other’s meaning. * If two men act alike on a 
percept, they believe themselves to feel alike 

39 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


about it; if not, they may suspect they know it 
in differing ways. We can never be sure we 
understand each other till we are able to bring 
the matter to this test. 1 This is why meta- 
physical discussions are so much like fighting 
with the air ; they have no practical issue of a 
sensational kind. ‘Scientific’ theories, on the 
other hand, always terminate in definite per- 
cepts. You can deduce a possible sensation 
from your theory and, taking me into your 
laboratory, prove that your theory is true of 
my world by giving me the sensation then and 
there. Beautiful is the flight of conceptual 
reason through the upper air of truth. No 
wonder philosophers are dazzled by it still, 
and no wonder they look with some disdain at 
the low earth of feeling from which the god- 

r * ‘There is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist 
in anything but a possible difference of practice, ... It ap- 
pears, then, that the rule for attaining the [highest] grade of 
clearness of apprehension is as follows: Consider what effects, 
which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive 
the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception 
of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object/ 
Charles S. Peirce: ‘How to make our Ideas dear/ in Popular 
Science Monthly > New York, January, 1878, p. 293. 



THE FUNCTION OF COGNITION 

dess launched herself aloft. But woe to her 
if she return not home to its acquaintance; 
Nirgends haften dann die unsieheren Sohlen — 
every crazy wind will take her, and, like a 
fire-balloon at night, she will go out among the 
stars* 

| Note. — The reader will easily see how much of the account 

j of the truth-function developed later in Pragmatism was 

] already explicit in this earlier article, and how much came 

to be defined later. In this earlier article we find distinctly 
asserted : — 

1. The reality, external to the true idea; 

2. The critic, reader, or epistemologist, with his own belief, 
as warrant for this reality’s existence; 

3. The experienceable environment, as the vehicle or me- 
dium connecting knower with known, and yielding the cogni- 
tive relation ; 

4. The notion of pointing , through this medium, to the 
reality, as one condition of our being said to know it; 

5. That of resembling it, and eventually affecting it, as de- 
termining the pointing to it and not to something else. 

6. The elimination of the * epistemological gulf,’ so that the 
whole truth-relation falls inside of the continuities of concrete 
experience, and is constituted of particular processes, varying 
with every object and subject, and susceptible of being de- 
scribed in detail. 

The defects In this earlier account are : — 

1. The possibly undue prominence given to resembling, 
which altho a fundamental function in knowing truly, is so 
often dispensed with; 


41 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

2. The undue emphasis laid upon operating on the object 
itself, which in many cases is indeed decisive of that being 
what we refer to, but which is often lacking, or replaced by 
operations on other things related to the object. 

3. The imperfect development of the generalized notion of 
the workability of the feeling or idea as equivalent to that 
satisfactory adaptation to the particular reality, which consti- 
tutes the truth of the idea. It is this more generalized notion, 
as covering all such specifications as pointing, fitting, operating 
or resembling, that distinguishes the developed view of 
Dewey, Schiller, and myself. 

4. The treatment, on page 39, of percepts as the only 
realm of reality. I now treat concepts as a co-ordinate 
realm. 

The next paper represents a somewhat broader grasp of the 
topic on the writer’s part. 



II 


THE TIGERS IN INDIA 1 

Thebe are two ways of knowing things, 
knowing them immediately or intuitively, and 
knowing them conceptually or representatively. 
Altho such things as the white paper before 
our eyes can be known intuitively, most of 
the things we know, the tigers now in India, 
for example, or the scholastic system of phi- 
losophy, are known only representatively or 
symbolically. 

Suppose, to fix our ideas, that we take first 
a case of conceptual knowledge ; and let it be 
our knowledge of the tigers in India, as we sit 
here. Exactly what do we mean by saying 
that we here know the tigers? What is the 
precise fact that the cognition so confidently 
, claimed is knovm^as, to use Shadworth Hodg- 
son’s inelegant but valuable form of words? 

Most men would answer that what we mean 

1 Extracts from a presidential address before the American 
Psychological Association, published in the Psychological 
Review, vol. ii, p. 105 (1895). 

43 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

by knowing the tigers is having them, how- 
ever absent in body, become in some way 
present to our thought ; or that our knowledge 
of them is known as presence of our thought to 
them. A great mystery is usually made of this 
peculiar presence in absence; and the scho- 
lastic philosophy, which is only common sense . 
grown pedantic, would explain it as a peculiar 
kind of existence, called intentional' inexist- 
ence, of the tigers in our mind. At the very 
least, people would say that what we mean 
by knowing the tigers is mentally 'pointing 
towards them as we sit here. 

But now what do we mean by pointing, in 
such a case as this? What is the pointing 
known-as, here? 

To this question X shall have to give a very 
prosaic answer — one that traverses the pre- 
possessions not only of common sense and 
scholasticism, but also those of nearly all the 
epistemological writers whom I have ever 
read. The answer, made brief, is this: The 
pointing of our thought to the tigers is known 
simply and solely as a procession of mental 

44 



THE TIGEES IN INDIA 

associates and motor consequences that follow 
on the thought, and that would lead harmoni- 
ously, if followed out, into some ideal or real 
context, or even into the immediate presence, 
of the tigers. It is known as our rejection of a 
jaguar, if that beast were shown us as a tiger; 
as our assent to a genuine tiger if so shown. 
It is known as our ability to utter all sorts 
of propositions which don’t contradict other 
propositions that are true of the real tigers. It 
is even known, if we take the tigers very seri- 
ously, as actions of ours which may terminate 
in directly intuited tigers, as they would if we 
took a voyage to India for the purpose of 
tiger-hunting and brought back a lot of skins 
of the striped rascals which we had laid low. 
In all this there is no self -transcendency in our 
mental images taken by themselves. They are 
one phenomenal fact; the tigers are another; 
and their pointing to the tigers is a per- 
fectly commonplace intra-experiential relation, 
if you once grant a connecting world to be 
there. In short, the ideas and the tigers are in 
themselves as loose and separate, to use 

45 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


Hume’s language, as any two things can be ; 
and pointing means here an operation as ex- 
ternal and adventitious as any that nature 
yields . 1 

I hope you may agree with me now that in 
representative knowledge there is no special 
inner mystery, but only an outer chain of 
physical or mental intermediaries connecting 
thought and thing. To know an object is here 
to lead to it through a context which the world 
supplies. All this was most instructively set 
forth by our colleague D. S. Miller at our 
meeting in New York last Christmas, and for 
re-confirming my sometime wavering opinion, 
I owe him this acknowledgment . 2 

Let us next pass on to the case of immediate 


1 A stone in one field may ‘fit/ we say, a hole in another 
field. But the relation of ‘fitting,’ so long as no one carries 
the stone to the hole and drops it in, is only one name for the 
fact that such an act may happen. Similarly with the know- 
ing of the tigers here and now. It is only an anticipatory name 
for a further associative and terminative process that may 
occur. 

2 See Dr. Miller’s articles on Truth and Error, and on 
Content and Function, in the Philosophical Review , July, 
1893, and Nov., 1895. 


46 



THE TIGERS IN INDIA 

or intuitive acquaintance with an object, and 
let the object be the white paper before our 
eyes. The thought-stuff and the thing-stuflF 
are here indistinguishably the same in nature, 
as we saw a moment since, and there is no 
context of intermediaries or associates to stand 
between and separate the thought and thing. 
There is no ‘ presence^ in absence’ here, and no 
‘pointing,’ but rather an allround embracing 
of the paper by the thought; and it is clear 
that the knowing cannot now be explained 
exactly as it was when the tigers were its object. 
Dotted all through our experience are states of 
immediate acquaintance just like this. Some- 
where our belief always does rest on ultimate 
data like the whiteness, smoothness, or square- 
ness of this paper. Whether such qualities be 
truly ultimate aspects of being, or only provi- 
sional suppositions of ours, held-to till we get 
better informed, is quite immaterial for our 
present inquiry. So long as it is believed in, 
we see our object face to face. What now do 
we mean by ‘knowing’ such a sort of object as 
this? For this is also the way in which we 

47 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


should know the tiger if our conceptual idea 
of him were to terminate by having led us to 
his lair? 

This address must not become too long, so I 
must give my answer in the fewest words. And 
let me first say this : So far as the white paper 
or other ultimate datum of our experience is 
considered to enter also into some one else’s 
experience, and we, in knowing it, are held to 
know it there as well as here ; so far, again, as 
it is considered to be a mere mask for hidden 
molecules that other now impossible experi- 
ences of our own might some day lay bare to 
view ; so far it is a case of tigers in India again 
— the things known being absent experiences, 
the knowing can only consist in passing 
smoothly towards them through the inter- 
mediary context that the world supplies. But 
if our own private vision of the paper be con- 
sidered in abstraction from every other event, 
as if it constituted by itself the universe (and 
it might perfectly well do so, for aught we can 
understand to the contrary), then the paper 
seen and the seeing of it are only two names for 

48 



THE TIGERS IN INDIA 


one indivisible fact which, properly named, 
is the datum, the phenomenon, or the experi- 
ence. The paper is in the mind and the mind 
is around the paper, because paper and mind 
are only two names that are given later to the 
one experience, when, taken in a larger world 
of which it forms a part, its connections 
are traced in different directions . 1 To know 

1 What is meant by this is that ‘the experience’ can be re- 
ferred to either of two great associative systems, that of the 
experiencer’s mental history, or that of the experienced facts 
of the world. Of both of these systems it forms part, and may 
be regarded, indeed, as one of their points of intersection. One 
might let a vertical line stand for the mental history; but the 



same object, O, appears also in the mental history of different 
persons, represented by the other vertical lines. It thus ceases 
to be the private property of one experience, and becomes, so 
to speak, a shared or public thing. We can track its outer his- 
tory in this way, and represent it by the horizontal line. [It 
is also known representatively at other points of the vertical 
lines, or intuitively there again, so that the line of its outer his- 
tory would have to be looped and wandering, but I make it 

49 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

immediately, then, or intuitively, is for mental 
content and object to be identical. This is a very 
different definition from that which we gave 
of representative knowledge; but neither de- 
finition involves those mysterious notions of 
self-transcendency and presence in absence 
which are such essential parts of the ideas 
of knowledge, both of philosophers and of 
common men. 1 

straight for simplicity’s sake.] In any case, however, it is the 
same stuff that figures in all the sets of lines. 

1 f The reader will observe that the text is written from the 
point of view of na%f realism or common sense, and avoids 
raising the idealistic controversy.] 



Ill 


HUMANISM AND TRUTH 1 

Receiving from the Editor of Mind an 
advance proof of Mr. Bradley’s article on 
‘Truth and Practice/ I understand this as 
a hint to me to join in the controversy over 
‘Pragmatism’ which seems to have seriously 
begun. As my name has been coupled with 
the movement, I deem it wise to take the hint, 
the more so as in some quarters greater credit 
has been given me than I deserve, and prob- 
ably undeserved discredit in other quarters 
falls also to my lot. 

First, as to the word ‘pragmatism/ I my- 
self have only used the term to indicate a 
method of carrying on abstract discussion. 
The serious meaning of a concept, says Mr. 
Peirce, lies in the concrete difference to some 
one which its being true will make. Strive 

1 Reprinted, with slight verbal revision, from Mind, vol. 
xiii, N. S , p. 457 (October, 1904). A couple of interpolations 
from another article in Mind, ‘Humanism and truth once 
more,’ in vol. xiv, have been made. 

51 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

to bring all debated conceptions to that ‘prag- 
matic* test, and you will escape vain wrangling : 
* if it can make no practical difference which of 
two statements be true, then they are really one 
statement in two verbal forms ; if it can make 
no practical difference whether a given state- 
ment be true or false, then the statement has 
no real meaning. In neither case is there 
anything fit to quarrel about: we may save 
our breath, and pass to more important 
things. 

All that the pragmatic method implies, 
then, is that truths should have practical 1 
consequences. ‘ In England the word has been 
used more broadly still, to cover the notion 
that the truth of any statement consists in the 
consequences, and particularly in their being 
good consequences. Here we get beyond 
affairs of method altogether; and since ‘my 
pragmatism and this wider pragmatism are so 
different, and both are important enough to 

1 [‘Practical’ in the sense of particular , of course, not in 
the sense that the consequences may not be mental as well 
as physical.] 


52 



HUMANISM AND TEUTH 

have different names, I think that Mr. Schil- 
ler’s proposal to call the wider pragmatism 
by the name of ‘humanism’ is excellent and 
ought to be adopted. The narrower prag- 
matism may still be spoken of as the ‘prag- 
matic method.’ 

I have read in the past six months manly 
hostile reviews of Schiller’s and Dewey’s pub- 
lications ; but with the exception of Mr. Brad- 
ley’s elaborate indictment, they are out of 
reach where I write, and I have largely forgot- 
ten them. I think that a free discussion of the 
subject on my part would in any case be more 
useful than a polemic attempt at rebutting 
these criticisms in detail. Mr. Bradley in par- 
ticular can be taken care of by Mr. Schiller. 
He repeatedly confesses himself unable to com- 
prehend Schiller’s views, he evidently has not 
sought to do so sympathetically, and I deeply 
regret to say that his laborious article throws, 
for my mind, absolutely no useful light upon 
the subject. It seems to me on the whole an 1 
ignoratio elenchi , and I feel free to disregard it 
altogether. 


53 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

The subject is unquestionably difficult. 
Messrs. Dewey’s and Schiller’s thought is emi- 
nently an induction, a generalization working 
itself free from all sorts of entangling particu- 
lars. If true, it involves much restatement of 
traditional notions. This is a kind of intel- 
lectual product that never attains a classic 
form of expression when first promulgated. 
The critic ought therefore not to be too sharp 
and logic-chopping in his dealings with it, but 
should weigh it as a whole, and especially weigh 
it against its possible alternatives. One should 
also try to apply it first to one instance, and 
then to another to see how it will work. It 
seems to me that it is emphatically not a case 
for instant execution, by conviction of intrinsic 
absurdity or of self-contradiction, or by cari- 
cature of what it would look like if reduced to 
skeleton shape. Humanism is in fact much 
more like one of those secular changes that 
come upon public opinion overnight, as it were, 
borne upon tides e too deep for sound or foam,’ 
that survive all the crudities and extravagances 
of their advocates, that you can pin to no one 

54 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

absolutely essential statement, nor kill by any 
one decisive stab. 

Such have been the changes from aristocracy 
to democracy, from classic to romantic taste, 
from theistic to pantheistic feeling, from static 
to evolutionary ways of understanding life — 
changes of which we all have been spectators. 
Scholasticism still opposes to such changes the 
method of confutation by single decisive rea- 
sons, showing that the new view involves self- 
contradiction, or traverses some fundamental 
’principle. This is like stopping a river by plant- 
ing a stick in the middle of its bed. Round 
your obstacle flows the water and ‘gets there 
all the same.’ In reading some of our oppo- 
nents, I am not a little reminded of those catho- 
lic writers who refute darwinism by telling us 
that higher species cannot come from lower 
because minus nequit gignere plus, or that the 
1 notion of transformation is absurd, for it im- 
plies that species tend to their own destruction, 
and that would violate the principle that every 
reality tends to persevere in its own shape. 
The point of view is too myopic, too tight and 
55 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

close to take in the inductive argument. Wide 
generalizations in science always meet with 
these summary refutations in their early days; 
but they outlive them, and the refutations then 
sound oddly antiquated and scholastic. I can- 
not help suspecting that the humanistic theory 
is going through this kind of would-be refuta- 
tion at present. 

s The one condition of understanding human- 
ism is to become inductive-minded oneself, to 
drop rigorous definitions, and follow lines of 
least resistance ‘on the whole.’ ‘In other 
words,’ an opponent might say, ‘resolve your 
intellect into a kind of slush.’ ‘Even so,’ I 
make reply, — ‘ if you will consent to use no 
politer word.’ For humanism, conceiving the 

■ more * true ’ as the more ‘ satisfactory ’ (Dewey’s 
term), has sincerely to renounce rectilinear ar- 
guments and ancient ideals of rigor and final- 
ity. It is in just this temper of renunciation, so 
different from that of pyrrhonistic scepticism, 
that the spirit of humanism essentially consists. 
Satisfactoriness has to be measured by a mul- 
titude of standards, of which some, for aught 

56 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 


we know, may fail in any given case ; and what 
is more satisfactory than any alternative in 
sight, may to the end be a sum of pluses and 
minuses , concerning which we can only trust 
that by ulterior corrections and improvements 
a maximum of the one and a minimum of the 
other may some day be approached. It means 
a real change of heart, *a break with absolutistic 
hopes, when one takes up this inductive view 
of the conditions of belief. 

As I understand the pragmatist way of see- 
ing things, it owes its being to the break-down 
which the last fifty years have brought about 
in the older notions of scientific truth. ‘God 
geometrizes,’ it used to be said; and it was 
believed that Euclid’s elements literally repro- 
duced his geometrizing. * There is an eternal 
and unchangeable ‘reason’ ; and its voice was 
supposed to reverberate in Barbara and Cela- 
rent. So also of the ‘ laws of nature,’ physical 
and chemical, so of natural history classifica- 
tions — all were supposed to be exact and 
exclusive duplicates of pre-human archetypes 
buried in the structure of things, to which the 

57 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

spark of divinity hidden in our intellect enables 
us to penetrate. * The anatomy of the world is 
logical, and its logic is that of a university 
professor, it was thought. Up to about 1850 
almost every one believed that sciences ex- 
pressed truths that were exact copies of a defi- 
nite code of non-human realities. But the 
enormously rapid multiplication of theories 
in these latter days has well-nigh upset the no- 
tion of any one of them being a more literally 
objective kind of thing than another. There 
are so many geometries, so many logics, so 
many physical and chemical hypotheses, so 
many classifications, each one of them good for 
so much and yet not good for everything, that 
the notion that even the truest formula may 
be a human device and not a literal transcript 
has dawned upon us. We hear scientific laws 
now treated as so much ‘conceptual short- 
hand, 5 true so far as they are useful but no 
farther. Our mind has become tolerant of sym- 
bol instead of reproduction, of approxima- 
tion instead of exactness, of plasticity instead 
of rigor. ‘ Energetics, 5 measuring the bare face 

58 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

of sensible phenomena so as to describe in 
a single formula all their changes of ‘level/ 
is the last word of this scientific humanism, 
which indeed leaves queries enough outstand- 
ing as to the reason for so curious a congru- 
ence between the world and the mind, but 
which at any rate makes our whole notion of 
scientific truth more flexible and genial than it 
used to be. 

It is to be doubted whether any theorizer 
to-day, either in mathematics, logic, physics 
or biology, conceives himself to be literally 
re-editing processes of nature or thoughts of 
God. .The main forms of our thinking, the 
separation of subjects from predicates, the 
negative, hypothetic and disjunctive judg- 
ments, are purely human habits. The ether, 
as Lord Salisbury said, is only a noun for the 
verb to undulate; and many of our theological 
ideas are admitted, even by those who call 
them ‘true/ to be humanistic in like degree. 

I fancy that these changes in the current 
notions of truth are what originally gave the 
impulse to Messrs. Dewey’s and Schiller’s 

59 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

views. The suspicion is in the air nowadays 
that the superiority of one of our formulas to 
another may not consist so much in its literal 
‘objectivity/ as in subjective qualities like its 
usefulness, its ‘elegance’ or its congruity with 
our residual beliefs. Yielding to these suspi- 
cions, and generalizing, we fall into something 
like the humanistic state of mind. ‘Truth we 
conceive to mean everywhere, not duplication, 
but addition; not the constructing of inner 
copies of already complete realities, but rather 
the collaborating with realities so as to 
bring about a clearer result. Obviously this 
state of mind is at first full of vagueness and 
ambiguity. ‘Collaborating’ is a vague term;' it 
must at any rate cover conceptions and logical 
arrangements. ‘Clearer’ is vaguer still. Truth 
must bring clear thoughts, as well as clear the 
way to action. ‘Reality’ is the vaguest term 
of all. The only way to test such a programme 
at all is to apply it to the various types of truth, 
in the hope of reaching an account that shall 
be more precise. Any hypothesis that forces 
such a review upon one has one great merit, 

60 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

even if in the end it prove invalid : it gets us 
better acquainted with the total subject. To 
give the theory plenty of ‘rope’ and see if it 
hangs itself eventually is better tactics than to 
choke it off at the outset by abstract accusa- 
tions of self-contradiction. I think therefore 
that a decided effort at sympathetic mental 
play with humanism is the provisional atti- 
tude to be recommended to the reader. 

When I find myself playing sympathetically 
with humanism, something like what follows 
is what I end by conceiving it to mean. 

Experience is a process that continually 
gives us new material to digest. We handle 
this intellectually by the mass of beliefs of 
which we find ourselves already possessed, as- 
similating, rejecting, or rearranging in differ- 
ent degrees. Some of the apperceiving ideas 
are recent acquisitions of our own, but most 
of them are common-sense traditions of the 
race. There is probably not a common-sense 
tradition, of all those which we now live by, 
that was not in the first instance a genuine 

61 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


discovery, an inductive generalization like 
those more recent ones of the atom, of inertia, of 
energy, of reflex action, or of fitness to survive. 
The notions of one Time and of one Space as 
single continuous receptacles; the distinction 
between thoughts and things, matter and mind ; 
between permanent subjects and changing at- 
tributes; the conception of classes with sub- 
classes within them; the separation of fortui- 
tous from regularly caused connections ; surely 
all these were once definite conquests made at 
historic dates by our ancestors in their attempts 
to get the chaos of their crude individual ex- 
periences into a more shareable and manage- 
able shape. ..They proved of such sovereign 
use as denhmittel that they are now a part of 
the very structure of our mind. We cannot 
play fast and loose with them. No experience 
can upset them. On the contrary, they ap- 
perceive every experience and assign it to its 
place. 

To what effect? That we may the better 
foresee the course of our experiences, commu- 
nicate with one another, and steer our lives 

62 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 


by rule. Also that we may have a cleaner, 
clearer, more inclusive mental view. 

The greatest common-sense achievement, 
after the discovery of one Time and one Space, 
is probably the concept of permanently exist- 
ing things. When a rattle first drops out of the 
hand of a baby, he does not look to see where 
, it has gone. ‘Non-perception he accepts as an- 
I nihilation until he finds a better belief. That 
our perceptions mean beings, rattles that are 
there whether we hold them in our hands or 
not, becomes an interpretation so luminous of 
what happens to us that, once employed, it 
never gets forgotten. It applies with equal 
felicity to things and persons, to the objective 
and to the ejective realm. However a Berke- 
ley, a Mill, or a Cornelius may criticise it, it 
works; and in practical life we never think of 
‘going back’ upon it, or reading our incoming 
experiences in any other terms. We may, in- 
deed, speculatively imagine a state of ‘pure’ 
experience before the hypothesis of permanent 
objects behind its flux had been framed ; and 
we can play with the idea that some primeval 

63 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

genius might have struck into a different hy- 
pothesis. But we cannot positively imagine to- 
day what the different hypothesis could havte 
been, for the category of trans-perceptual real- 
ity is now one of the foundations of our life. 
Our thoughts must still employ it if they are 
to possess reasonableness and truth. 

This notion of a first in the shape of a most 
chaotic pure experience which sets us ques- 
tions, of a second in the way of fundamental 
categories, long ago wrought into the structure 
of our consciousness and practically irrevers- 
ible, which define the general frame within 
which answers must fall, and of a third which 
gives the detail of the answers in the shapes 
most congruous with all our present needs, is, 
as I take it, the essence of the humanistic con- 
ception. It represents experience in its pristine 
purity to be now so enveloped in predicates 
historically worked out that we can think of 
it as little more than an Other , of a That, which 
the mind, in Mr. Bradley’s phrase, ‘encoun- 
ters,’ and to whose stimulating presence we 
respond by ways of thinking which we call 

64 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

‘true’ in proportion as they facilitate our men- 
tal or physical activities and bring us outer 
power and inner peace. But whether the 
Other, the universal That, has itself any defi- 
nite inner structure, or whether, if it have any, 
the structure resembles any of our predicated 
whats, this is a question which humanism 
leaves untouched. For us, at any rate, it in- 
sists, reality is an accumulation of our own 
intellectual inventions, and the struggle for 
‘truth’ in our progressive dealings with it is 
always a struggle to work in new nouns and 
adjectives while altering as little as possible 
the old. 

It is hard to see why either Mr. Bradley’s 
own logic or his metaphysics should oblige 
him to quarrel with this conception. He might 
consistently adopt it verbatim et literatim, if he 
would, and simply throw his peculiar absolute 
round it, following in this the good example 
of Professor Royce. Bergson in France, and 
his disciples, Wilbois the physicist and Leroy, 
are thoroughgoing humanists in the sense 
defined. Professor Milhaud also appears to 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


be one; and the great Poincare misses it by 
only the breadth of a hair. In Germany the 
name of Simmel offers itself as that of a hu- 
manist of the most radical sort. Mach and 
his school, and Hertz and Ostwald must be 
classed as humanists. The view is in the at- 
mosphere and must be patiently discussed. 

The best way to discuss it would be to see 
what the alternative might be. What is it in- 
deed? Its critics make no explicit statement, 
Professor Royce being the only one so far who 
has formulated anything definite. The first 
service of humanism to philosophy accordingly 
seems to be that it will probably oblige those 
who dislike it to search their own hearts and 
heads. It will force analysis to the front and 
make it the order of the day. At present the 
lazy tradition that truth is adcequatio intellec- 
t's et rei seems all there is to contradict it with. 

*Mr. Bradley’s only suggestion is that true 
thought ‘must correspond to a determinate 
being which it cannot be said to make,’ and 
obviously that sheds no new light. What is the 

66 

4 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

meaning of the word to ‘correspond’ ? Where 
is the ‘being’ ? What sort of things are ‘deter- 
minations/ and what is meant in this particular 
case by ‘ not to make ’ ? 

Humanism proceeds immediately to refine 
upon the looseness of these epithets. We cor- 
respond in some way with anything with which 
we enter into any relations at all. If it be a 
thing, we may produce an exact copy of it, or 
we may simply feel it as an existent in a cer- 
tain place. If it be a demand, we may obey it 
without knowing anything more about it than 
its push. If it be a proposition, we may agree 
by not contradicting it, by letting it pass. If 
it be a relation between things, we may act on 
the first thing so as to bring ourselves out 
where the second will be. If it be something 
inaccessible, we may substitute a hypothetical 
object for it, which, having the same conse- 
quences, will cipher out for us real results. *In 
a general way we may simply add our thought 
to it; and if it suffers the addition, and the whole 
situation harmoniously prolongs and enriches 
itself, the thought will pass for true. 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

As for the whereabouts of the beings thus 
corresponded to, although they may be out- 
side of the present thought as well as in it, hu- 
manism sees no ground for saying they are 
outside of finite experience itself. Pragmati- 
cally, their reality means that we submit to 
them, take account of them, whether we like 
to or not, but this we must perpetually do with 
experiences other than our own. The whole 
system of what the present experience must 
correspond to ‘adequately’ maybe continuous 
with the present experience itself. Reality, 
so taken as experience other than the pre- 
sent, might be either the legacy of past expe- 
rience or the content of experience to come. 
Its determinations for us are in any case the 
adjectives which our acts of judging fit to it, 
and those are essentially humanistic things. 

. To say that our thought does not ‘make’ 
this reality means pragmatically that if 'our 
own particular thought were annihilated the 
reality would still be there in some shape, 
though possibly it might be a shape that would 
lack something that our thought supplies. 

68 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

That reality is ‘independent 5 means that there 
is something in every experience that escapes 
our arbitrary control. If it be a sensible experi- 
ence it coerces our attention ; if a sequence, we 
cannot invert it ; if we compare two terms we 
can come to only one result. There is a push, 
an urgency, within our very experience, against 
which we are on the whole powerless, and 
which drives us in a direction that is the des- 
tiny of our belief. That this drift of experience 
itself is in the last resort due to something 
independent of all possible experience may or 
may not be true. '*There may or may not be 
an extra-experiential ‘ding an sich’ that keeps 
the ball rolling, or an ‘absolute’ that lies eter- 
nally behind all the successive determinations 
which human thought has made. But within 
our experience itself, at any rate, humanism 
says, some determinations show themselves as 
being independent of others ; some questions, 
if we ever ask them, can only be answered in 
one way^ some beings, if we ever suppose 
them, must be supposed to have existed pre- 
viously to the supposing; some relations, if 

69 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

they exist ever, must exist as long as their 
terms exist. 

Truth thus means, according to humanism, 
the relation of less fixed parts of experience 
(predicates) to other relatively more fixed parts 
(subjects); and we are not required to seek 
it in a relation of experience as such to any- 
thing beyond itself. We can stay at home, for' 
our behavior as experients is hemmed in on 
every side. The forces both of advance and 
of resistance are exerted by our own objects, 
and the notion of truth as something opposed 
to waywardness or license inevitably grows up 
solipsistically inside of every human life. 

So obvious is all this that a common charge 
against the humanistic authors ‘makes me 
tired.’ ‘How can a deweyite discriminate sin- 
cerity from bluff ? ’ was a question asked at a 
philosophic meeting where I reported on 
Dewey’s Studies. ‘ How can the mere 1 prag- 

1 I know of no ‘mere’ pragmatist, if mereness here means, 
as it seems to, the denial of all concreteness to the pragmatist’s 
thought 


70 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

matist feel any duty to think truly?’ is the ob- 
jection urged by Professor Royce. Mr. Brad- 
ley in turn says that if a humanist understands 
his own doctrine, ‘he must hold any idea, 
however mad, to be the truth, if any one will 
have it so.’ And Professor Taylor describes 
pragmatism as believing anything one pleases 
and calling it truth. 

Such a shallow sense of the conditions 
under which men’s thinking actually goes on 
seems to me most surprising. These critics 
appear to suppose that, if left to itself, the rud- 
derless raft of our experience must be ready 
to drift anywhere or nowhere. Even tho 
there were compasses on board, they seem to 
say, there would be no pole for them to point 
to. There must be absolute sailing-directions, 
they insist, decreed from outside, and an in- 
dependent chart of the voyage added to the 
‘mere’ voyage itself, if we are ever to make a 
port. But is it not obvious that even tho 
there be such absolute sailing-directions in 
the shape of pre-human standards of truth 
that we ought to follow, the only guarantee 

71 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

that we shall in fact follow them must lie in 
our human equipment. The ‘ought’ would 
be a brutum julmen unless there were a felt 
grain inside of our experience that conspired. 
As a matter of fact the devoutest believers in 
absolute standards must admit that men fail 
to obey them. Waywardness is here, in spite 
of the eternal prohibitions, and the existence 
of any amount of reality ante rem is no warrant 
against unlimited error in rebus being incurred. 
The only real guarantee we have against li- 
centious thinking is the circumpressure of ex- 
perience itself, which gets us sick of concrete 
errors, whether there be a trans-empirical 
reality or not. How does the partisan of ab- 
solute reality know what this orders him to 
think ? He cannot get direct sight of the abso- 
lute ; and he has no means of guessing what it 
wants of him except by following the 'human- 
istic clues. The only truth that he himself will 
ever practically accept will be that to which 
his finite experiences lead him of themselves. 
The state of mind which shudders at the idea 
of a lot of experiences left to themselves, and 

72 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

that augurs protection from the sheer name 
of an absolute, as if, however inoperative, that 
might still stand for a sort of ghostly security, 
is like the mood of those good people who, 
whenever they hear of a social tendency that 
is damnable, begin to redden and to puff, and 
say ‘Parliament or Congress ought to make a 
law against it,’ as if an impotent decree would 
give relief. 

* All the sanctions of a law of truth lie in the 
very texture of experience. - Absolute or no 
absolute, the concrete truth for us will always 
be that way of thinking in which our various 
experiences most profitably combine. 

And yet, the opponent obstinately urges, 
your humanist will always have a greater lib- 
erty to play fast and loose with truth than will 
your believer in an independent realm of real- 
ity that jnakes the standard rigid. If by this 
latter believer he means a man who pretends 
to know the standard and who fulminates it, 
the humanist will doubtless prove more flex- 
ible; but no more flexible than the absolutist 
himself if the latter follows (as fortunately our 

73 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

present-day absolutists do follow) empirical 
methods of inquiry in concrete affairs. To con- 
sider hypotheses is surely always better than 
to dogmatize ins blaue hinein. 

Nevertheless this probable flexibility of tem- 
per in him has been used to convict the hu- 
manist of sin. Believing as he does, that truth 
lies in rebus, and is at every moment our own 
line of most propitious reaction, he stands for- 
ever debarred, as I have heard a learned col- 
league say, from trying to convert opponents, 
for does not their view, being their most pro- 
pitious momentary reaction, already fill the 
bill ? Only the believer in the ante-rem brand 
of truth can on this theory seek to make con- 
verts without self-stultification. But can there 
be self-stultification in urging any account 
whatever of truth? Can the definition ever 
contradict the deed ? ‘ Truth is what I feel like 
saying’ — suppose that to be the definition. 
‘ Well, I feel like saying that, and I want you 
to feel like saying it, and shall continue to say 
it until I get you to agree.’ Where is there any 
contradiction? Whatever truth may be said 

74 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

to be, that is the kind of truth which the say- 
ing can be held to carry. The temper which a 
saying may comport is an extra-logical matter. 
It may indeed be hotter in some individual 
absolutist than in a humanist, but it need not 
be so in another. And the humanist, for his 
part, is perfectly consistent in compassing sea 
and land to make one proselyte, if his nature 
be enthusiastic enough. 

» But how can you be enthusiastic over any 
view of things which you know to have been 
partly made by yourself, and which is liable 
to alter during the next minute ? How is any 
heroic devotion to the ideal of truth possible 
under such paltry conditions?’ 

This is just another of those objections by 
which the anti-humanists show their own com- 
paratively slack hold on the realities of the 
situation. If they would only follow the prag- 
matic method and ask : ‘ What is truth Jcnovm- 
as ? What does its existence stand for in the 
way of concrete goods ? ’ — they would see 
that the name of it is the inbegriff of almost 
everything that is valuable in our lives. The 
75 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

true is the opposite of whatever is instable, 
of whatever is practically disappointing, of 
whatever is useless, of whatever is lying and 
unreliable, of whatever is unverifiable and un- 
supported, of whatever is inconsistent and con- 
tradictory, of whatever is artificial and eccen- 
tric, of whatever is unreal in the sense of being 
of no practical account. Here are pragmatic 
reasons with a vengeance why we should turn 
to truth — truth saves us from a world of that 
complexion. What wonder that its very name 
awakens loyal feeling! In particular what 
wonder that all little provisional fool’s para- 
dises of belief should appear contemptible in 
comparison with its bare pursuit! When ab- 
solutists reject humanism because they feel it 
to be untrue, that means that the whole habit 
of their mental needs is wedded already to a 
different view of reality, in comparison with 
which the humanistic world seems but the 
whim of a few irresponsible youths. Their own 
subjective apperceiving mass is what speaks 
here in the name of the eternal natures and 
bids them reject our humanism — as they ap- 

76 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 


prebend it. Just so with us humanists, when 
we condemn all noble, clean-cut, fixed, eternal, 
rational, temple-like systems of philosophy. 
These contradict the dramatic temperament of 
nature, as our dealings with nature and our 
habits of thinking have so far brought us to 
conceive it. They seem oddly personal and 
artificial, even when not bureaucratic and pro- 
fessional in an absurd degree. We turn from 
them to the great unpent and unstayed wilder- 
ness erf truth as we feel it to be constituted, 
with as^ood a conscience as rationalists are 
moved by when they turn from our wilderness 
into their neater and cleaner intellectual 
abodes . 1 

1 [I cannot forbear quoting as an illustration of the con- 
trast between humanist and rationalist tempers of mind, in 
a sphere remote from philosophy, these remarks on the Drey- 
fus * affaire,’ written by one who assuredly had never heard 
of humanism or pragmatism. ‘Autant que la Revolution, 
‘T Affaire” est desormais une de nos “ origines ” Si elle n’a 
pas fait ouvrir le gouffre, e’est elle du moms qui a rendu 
patent et visible le long travail souterrain qui, silencieuse- 
ment, avait prepare la separation entre nos deux camps 
d’aujourd’hui, pour ecarter enfin, d’un coup soudain, la 
France dues traditionalistes (poseurs de pnndpes , chercheurs 
d’unite, construdeurs de systemes h 'priori) et la France eprise 

77 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


This is surely enough to show that the hu- 
manist does not ignore the character of ob- 
jectivity and independence in truth. Let me 
turn next to what his opponents mean when 
they say that to be true, our thoughts must 
‘ correspond.’ 


The vulgar notion of correspondence here is 
that the thoughts must copy the reality — 
eognitio fit per assimiliationem cogniti et cog- 
noscentis ; and philosophy, without having ever 
fairly sat down to the question, seems to have 
instinctively accepted this idea: propositions 
are held true if they copy the eternal thought ; 
terms are held true if they copy extra-mental 

du fait positif et de libre examen ^ 7 - la France revolutionnaire 
et romantique si l’on veut, celle qui met tres haut l’individu, 
qui ne veut pas qu’un juste perisse, fut-ce pour sauver la 
nation, et qui cherche la verite dans toutes ses parties aussi 
bien que dans une vue d’ensemble. . . . Duclaux ne pouvait 
pas concevoir qu’on pr£fer&t quelque chose k la verite Mais 
il voyait autour de lui de fort honnetes gens qui, mettant en 
balance la vie d’un homme et la raison d’Etat, lui avouaient 
de quel poids leger ils jugeaient une simple existence in- 
dividuelle, pour innocente qu’elle fut. C’etaient des classiques , 
des gem h qui V ensemble seul importe * La Vie de Emile 
Duclaux > par Mme. Em. D., Laval, 1906, pp. 243, 247-248.] 

78 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

realities. Implicitly, I think that the copy- 
theory has animated most of the criticisms that 
have been made on humanism. 

A priori, however, it is not self-evident that 
the sole business of our mind with realities 
should be to copy them. Let my reader sup- 
pose himself to constitute for a time all the 
reality there is in the universe, and then to re- 
ceive the announcement that another being is 
to be created who shall know him truly. How 
will he represent the knowing in advance? 
What will he hope it to be ? I doubt extremely 
whether it could ever occur to him to fancy it as 
a mere' copying. »Of what use to him would 
an imperfect second edition of himself in the 
new comer’s interior be ? It would seem pure 
waste of a propitious opportunity. The de- 
mand would more probably be for something 
absolutely new. The reader would conceive 
the knowing humanistically, ‘ the new comer,’ 
he would say, ‘ must take account of my presence 
by reacting on it in such a way that good would 
accrue to us both. If copying be requisite to 
that end, let there be copying ; otherwise not.’ 

79 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


The essence in any case would not be the 
copying, but the enrichment of the previous 
world. 

I read the other day, in a book of Professor 
Eucken’s, a phrase, ‘Die erhohung des vor- 
gefundenen daseins ,’ which seems to be perti- 
nent here. 3 Why may not thought’s mission 
be to increase and elevate, rather than simply 
to imitate and reduplicate, existence ? No one 
who has read Lotze can fail to remember his 
striking comment on the ordinary view of the 
secondary qualities of matter, which brands 
them as ‘illusory’ because they copy nothing 
in the thing. ’The notion of a world complete 
in itself, to which thought comes as a passive 
mirror, adding nothing to fact, Lotze says is 
irrational. Rather is thought itself a most 
momentous part of fact, and the whole mission 
of the pre-existing and insufficient world of 
matter may simply be to provoke thought to 
produce its far more precious supplement. 

‘Knowing,’ in short, may, for aught we can 
see beforehand to the contrary, be only one 
way of getting into fruitful relations with real- 
80 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

ity, whether copying be one of the relations 
or not. 

It is easy to see from what special type of 
knowing the copy-theory arose. In our deal- 
ings with natural phenomena the great point 
is to be able to foretell. Foretelling, according 
to such a writer as Spencer, is the whole mean- 
ing of intelligence. When Spencer’s ‘law of 
intelligence’ says that inner and outer relations 
must ‘correspond,’ it means that the distribu- 
tion of terms in our inner time-scheme and 
space-scheme must be an exact copy of the 
distribution in real time and space of the real 
terms. In strict theory the mental terms them- 
selves need not answer to the real terms in the 
sense of severally copying them, symbolic men- \ 
tal terms being enough, if only the real dates 
and places be copied. But in our ordinary life 
the mental terms are images and the real ones 
are sensations, and the images so often copy 
the sensations, that we easily take copying of 
terms as well as of relations to be the natural 
significance of knowing. Meanwhile much, 
even of this common descriptive truth, is 

81 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

couched in verbal symbols. 'If our symbols fit 
the world, in the sense of determining our ex- 
pectations rightly, they may even be the bet- 
ter for not copying its terms. 

It seems obvious that the pragmatic account 
of all this routine of phenomenal knowledge 
is accurate. Truth here is a relation, not of 
our ideas to non-human realities, but of con- 
ceptual parts of our experience to sensational 
parts. Those thoughts are true which guide 
us to beneficial interaction with sensible par- 
ticulars as they occur, whether they copy these 
in advance or not. 

From the frequency of copying in the know- 
ledge of phenomenal fact, copying has been 
supposed to be the essence of truth in matters 
rational also. Geometry and logic, it has been 
supposed, must copy archetypal thoughts in the 
Creator. But in these abstract spheres there 
is no need of assuming archetypes. The mind 
is free to carve so many figures out of space, 
to make so many numerical collections, to 
frame so many classes and series, and it can 

82 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

analyze and compare so endlessly, that the very 
superabundance of the resulting ideas makes 
us doubt the ‘objective’ pre-existence of their 
models. It would be plainly wrong to suppose 
a God whose thought consecrated rectangular 
but not polar co-ordinates, or Jevons’s nota- 
tion but not Boole’s. Yet if, on the other hand, 
we assume God to have thought in advance of 
eveiy possible flight of human fancy in these 
directions, his mind becomes too much like a 
Hindoo idol with three heads, eight arms and 
six breasts, too much made up of superfoetation 
and redundancy for us to wish to copy it, and 
the whole notion of copying tends to evaporate 
from these sciences. Their objects can be bet- 
ter interpreted as being created step by step by 
men, as fast as they successively conceive them. 

If now it be asked how, if triangles, squares, 
square roots, genera, and the like, are but im- 
provised human ‘artefacts,’ their properties 
and relations can be so promptly known to be 
‘eternal,’ the humanistic answer is easy. If 
triangles and genera are of our own produc- 
tion we can keep them invariant. We can 

83 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

make them ‘timeless’ by expressly decreeing 
that on the things we mean time shall exert 
no altering effect, that they are intentionally 
and it may be fictitiously abstracted from every 
corrupting real associate and condition. But 
relations between invariant objects will them- 
selves be invariant. Such relations cannot be 
happenings, for by hypothesis nothing shall 
happen to the objects. I have tried to show 
in the last chapter of my Principles of Psy- 
chology* that they can only be relations of 
comparison. No one so far seems to have no- 
ticed my suggestion, and I am too ignorant of 
the development of mathematics to feel very 
confident of my own’ view. But if it were 
correct it would solve the difficulty perfectly. 
Belations of comparison are matters of direct 
inspection. As soon as mental objects are 
mentally compared, they are perceived to be 
either like or unlike. But once the same, al- 
ways the same, once different, always different, 
under these timeless conditions. Which is as 
much as to say that truths concerning these 
1 Vol. ii, pp. 641 ff. 

84 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

man-made objects are necessary and eternal. 
We can change our conclusions only by 
changing our data first. 

. The whole fabric of the a 'priori sciences can 
thus be treated as a man-made product. As 
Locke long ago pointed out, these sciences 
have no immediate connection jwith fact. Only 
if a fact can be humanized by being identified 
with any of these ideal objects, is what was 
true of the objects now true also of the facts. 
The truth itself meanwhile was originally a copy 
of nothing ; it was only a relation directly per- 
ceived to obtain between two artificial mental 
things . 1 

We may now glance at some special types 
of knowing, so as to see better whether the 
humanistic account fits. On the mathematical 
and logical types we need not enlarge further, 
nor need we return at much length to the case 
of our descriptive knowledge of the course of 
nature. So far as this involves anticipation, 

1 [Mental things which are realities of course within the 
mental world.] 


85 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

tho that may mean copying, it need, as we 
saw, mean little more than ‘getting ready 9 in 
advance. But with many distant and future 
objects, our practical relations are to the last 
degree potential and remote. In no sense can 
we now get ready for the arrest of the earth’s 
revolution by the tidal brake, for instance; 
and with the past, tho we suppose ourselves 
to know it truly, we have no practical rela- 
tions at all. It is obvious that, altho interests 
strictly practical have been the original start- 
ing-point of our search for true phenomenal 
descriptions, yet an intrinsic interest in the 
bare describing function has grown up. We 
wish accounts that shall be true, whether they 
bring collateral profit or not. “The primitive 
function has developed its demand for mere 
exercise. This theoretic curiosity seems to be 
the characteristically human differentia, and 
humanism recognizes its enormous scope. A 
true idea now means not only one that pre- 
pares us for an actual perception. It means 
also one that might prepare us for a merely 
possible perception, or one that, if spoken, 

86 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 


would suggest possible perceptions to others, 
or suggest actual perceptions which the speaker 
cannot share. The ensemble of perceptions 
thus thought of as either actual or possible 
form a system which it is obviously advanta- 
geous to us to get into a stable and consistent 
shape; and here it is that the common-sense 
notion of permanent beings finds triumphant 
use. Beings acting outside of the thinker ex- 
plain, not only his actual perceptions, past and 
future, but his possible perceptions and those 
of every one else. Accordingly they gratify our 
theoretic need in a supremely beautiful way. 
We pass from our immediate actual through 
them into the foreign and the potential, and 
back again into the future actual, accounting 
for innumerable particulars by a single cause. 
As in those circular panoramas, where a real 
foreground of dirt, grass, bushes, rocks and a 
broken-down cannon is enveloped by a can- 
vas picture of sky and earth and of a raging 
battle, continuing the foreground so cu nning ly 
that the spectator can detect no joint ;*so these 
Conceptual objects, added to our present per- 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

ceptual reality, fuse with it into the whole uni- 
verse of our belief. In spite of all berkeleyan 
criticism, we do not doubt that they are really 
there. Tho our discovery of any one of them 
may only date from now, we unhesitatingly 
say that it not only is, but was there, if, by 
so saying, the past appears connected more 
consistently with what we feel the present to 
be. This is historic truth. Moses wrote the 
Pentateuch, we think, because if he did n’t, all 
our religious habits will have to be undone. 
Julius Csesar was real, or we can never, listen 
to history again. Trilobites were once alive, or 
all our thought about the strata is at sea. ‘Ra- 
dium, discovered only yesterday, must always 
have existed, or its analogy with other natural 
elements, which are permanent, fails. In all 
this, it is but one portion of our beliefs reacting 
on another so as to yield the most satisfactory 
total state of mind. That state of mind, we say, 
sees truth, and the content of its deliverances 
we believe. 

Of course, if you take the satisfactoriness 
concretely, as something felt by you now, and 

88 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

if, by truth, you mean truth taken abstractly 
and verified in the long run, you cannot make 
them equate, for it is notorious that the tem- 
porarily satisfactory is often false. Yet at each 
and every concrete moment, truth for each 
man is what that man * troweth ’ at that mo- 
ment with the maximum of satisfaction to him- 
self ; and similarly, abstract truth, truth verified 
by the long run, and abstract satisfactoriness, 
long-run satisfactoriness, coincide. If, in short, 
we compare concrete with concrete and ab- 
stract with abstract, the true and the satisfac- 
tory do mean the same thing. I suspect that 
a certain muddling of matters hereabouts is 
what makes the general philosophic public so 
impervious to humanism’s claims. 

The fundamental fact about our experience 
is that it is a process of change. For the 
‘trower’ at any moment, truth, like the visible 
area round a man walking in a fog, or like 
what George Eliot calls * the wall of dark seen 
by small fishes’ eyes that pierce a span in 
the wide Ocean,’ is an objective field which 
the next moment enlarges and of which it is the 

89 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

critic, and which, then either suffers alteration 
or is continued unchanged. The critic sees 
both the first trower’s truth and his own truth, 
compares them with each other, and verifies 
or confutes. His field of view is the reality- 
independent of that earlier trower’s thinking 
with which that thinking ought to correspond. 
But the critic is himself only a trower; and if 
the whole process of experience should ter- 
minate at that instant, there would be no 
otherwise known independent reality with 
which his thought might be compared. 

The immediate in experience is always 
provisionally in this situation. The human- 
ism, for instance, which I see and try so hard 
to defend, is the completest truth attained 
from my point of view up to date. But, owing 
to the fact that all experience is a process, no 
point of view can ever be the last one. Every 
one is insufficient and off its balance, and re- 
sponsible to later points of view than itself. 
You, occupying some of these later points in 
your own person, and believing in the reality 
of others, will not agree that my point of view 

90 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

sees truth positive, truth timeless, truth that 
counts, unless they verify and confirm what it 
sees. 

You generalize this by saying that any 
opinion, however satisfactory, can count posi- 
tively and absolutely as true only so far as it 
agrees with a standard beyond itself; and if 
you then forget that this standard perpetually 
grows up endogenously inside the web of the 
experiences, you may carelessly go on to say 
that what distributively holds of each experi- 
ence, holds also collectively of all experience, 
and that experience as such and in its totality 
owes whatever truth it may be possessed-of 
to its correspondence with absolute realities 
outside of its own being. This evidently is the 
popular and traditional position. From the 
fact that finite experiences must draw support 
from one another, philosophers pass to the 
notion that experience uberhaupt must need 
an absolute support. The denial of such a 
notion by humanism lies probably at the root 
of most of the dislike which it incurs. 

But is this not the globe, the elephant and 
91 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

the tortoise over again ? Must not something 
end by supporting itself ? Humanism is willing 
to let finite experience be self-supporting. 
Somewhere being must immediately breast 
nonentity. Why may not the advancing front 
of experience, carrying its immanent satis- 
factions and dissatisfactions, cut against the 
black inane as the luminous orb of the moon 
cuts the cserulean abyss? Why should any- 
where the world be absolutely fixed and fin- 
ished? And if reality genuinely grows, why 
may it not grow in these very determinations 
which here and now are made ? 

In point of fact it actually seems to grow 
by our mental determinations, be these never 
so ‘true.’ Take the ‘great bear’ or ‘dipper’ 
constellatibn in the heavens. We call it by 
that name, we count the stars and call them 
seven, we say they were seven before they were 
counted, and we say that whether any one had 
ever noted the fact or not, the dim resemblance 
to a long-tailed (or long-necked ?) animal was 
always truly there. But what do we mean 

92 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

by this, projection into past eternity of recent 
human ways of thinking? Did an * abso- 
lute’ thinker actually do the counting, tell 
off the stars upon his standing number-tally, 
and make the bear-comparison, silly as the 
latter is ? Were they explicitly seven, ex- 
plicitly bear-like, before the human witness 
came? Surely nothing in the truth of the 
attributions drives us to think this. They 
were only implicitly or virtually what we call 
them, and we human witnesses first explicated 
them and made them ‘real.’ A fact virtually 
pre-exists when every condition of its realiza- 
tion save one is already there. In this case the 
condition lacking is the act of the counting 
and comparing mind. But the stars (once the 
mind considers them) themselves dictate the 
result. The counting in no wise modifies their 
previous nature, and, they being what and 
where they are, the count cannot fall out 
differently. It could then always be made. 
Never could the number seven be questioned, 
if the question once were raised. 

We have here a quasi-paradox. Undeniably 
93 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


something comes by the counting that was 
not there before. And yet that something 
was always true. In one sense you create it, 
and in another sense you find it. You have 
to treat your count as being true beforehand, 
the moment you come to treat the matter 
at all. 

Our stellar attributes must always be called 
true, then ; yet none the less are they genuine 
additions made by our intellect to the world 
of fact. Not additions of consciousness only, 
but additions of ‘content.’ They copy nothing 
that pre-existed, yet they agree with what pre- 
existed, fit it, amplify it, relate and connect it 
with a ‘wain,’ a number-tally, or what not, 
and build it out. It seems to me that humanism 
is the only theory that builds this case out in 
the good direction, and this case stands for 
innumerable other kinds of case. In all such 
cases, odd as it may sound, our judgment 
may actually be said to retroact and to enrich 
the past. 

- Our judgments at any rate change the char- 
acter of future reality by the acts to which they 

94 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

lead. Where these acts are acts expressive of 
trust, — trust, e. g., that a man is honest, 
that our health is good enough, or that we 
can make a successful effort, — which acts 
may be a needed antecedent of the trusted 
things becoming true, Professor Taylor says 1 
that our trust is at any rate untrue when it is 
made, i. e., before the action; and I seem to 
remember that he disposes of anything like a 
faith in the general excellence of the universe 
(making the faithful person’s part in it at any 
rate more excellent) as a ‘lie in the soul.’ But 
the pathos of this expression should not blind 
us to the complication of the facts. I doubt 
whether Professor Taylor would himself be in 
favor of practically handling trusters of these 
kinds as liars. Future and present really mix 
in such emergencies, and one can always es- 
cape lies in them by using hypothetic forms. 
But Mr. Taylor’s attitude suggests such ab- 
surd possibilities of practice that it seems to 

1 In an article criticising Pragmatism (as he conceives it) 
in the McGill University Quarterly published at Montreal, 
for May, 1904. 


95 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

me to illustrate beautifully how self-stultifying 
the conception of a truth that shall merely 
register a standing fixture may become. 
Theoretic truth, truth of passive copying, 
sought in the sole interests of copying as such, 
not because copying is good for something , but 
because copying ought schlechthin to be, seems, 
if you look at it coldly, to be an almost pre- 
posterous ideal. 'Why should the universe, 
existing in itself, also exist in copies? vHow 
can it be copied in the solidity of its objective 
fulness ? And even if it could, what would the 
motive be ? * Even the hairs of your head are 
numbered.’ Doubtless they are, virtually ; 
but why, as an absolute proposition, ought 
the number to become copied and known? 
Surely knowing is only one way of interacting 
with reality and adding to its effect. 

The opponent here will ask : ‘ Has not the 
knowing of truth any substantive value on its 
own account, apart from the collateral advan- 
tages it may bring ? And if you allow theoretic 
satisfactions to exist at all, do they not crowd 
the collateral satisfactions out of house and 

96 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 


home, and must not pragmatism go into 
bankruptcy, if she admits them at all?’ The 
destructive force of such talk disappears as 
soon as we use words concretely instead of 
abstractly, and ask, in our quality of good 
pragmatists, just what the famous theoretic 
needs are known as and in what the intellect- 
ual satisfactions consist. 

Are they not all mere matters of consistency 
— and emphatically not of consistency between 
an absolute reality and the mind’s copies of it, 
but of actually felt consistency among judg- 
ments, objects, and habits of reacting, in the 
mind’s own experienceable world? And are 
not both our need of such consistency and 
our pleasure in it conceivable as outcomes of 
the natural fact that we are beings that do 
develop mental habits — habit itself proving 
adaptively beneficial in an environment where 
the same objects, or the same kinds of objects, 
recur and follow Taw’ ? If this were so, what 
would have come first would have been the 
collateral profits of habit as such, and the theo- 
retic life would have grown up in aid of these. 

97 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

In point of fact, this seems to have been the 
probable case. At life’s origin, any present per- 
ception may have been e true’ — if such a word 
could then be applicable. Later, when reactions 
became organized, the reactions became ‘true’ 
whenever expectation was fulfilled by them. 
Otherwise they were ‘false’ or ‘mistaken’ re- 
actions. But the same class of objects needs the 
same kind of reaction, so the impulse to react 
consistently must gradually have been estab- 
lished, and a disappointment felt whenever the 
results frustrated expectation. Here is a per- 
fectly plausible germ for all our higher consist- 
encies. Nowadays, if an object claims from 
us a reaction of the kind habitually accorded 
only to the opposite class of objects, our mental 
machinery refuses to run smoothly. The situa- 
tion is intellectually unsatisfactory. 

Theoretic truth thus falls within the mind, 
being the accord of some of its processes and 
objects with other processes and objects — 
‘accord’ consisting here in well-definable re- 
lations. So long as the satisfaction of feeling 
such an accord is denied us, whatever collat- 

98 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

eral profits may seem to inure from what we 
believe in are but as dust in the balance — 
provided always that we are highly organized 
intellectually, which the majority of us are not. 
The amount of accord which satisfies most men 
and women is merely the absence of violent 
clash between their usual thoughts and state- 
ments and the limited sphere of sense-per- 
ceptions in which their lives are cast. The 
theoretic truth that most of us think we * ought’ 
to attain to is thus the possession of a set of 
predicates that do not explicitly contradict their 
subjects. We preserve it as often as not by leav- 
ing other predicates and subjects out. 

In some men theory is a passion, just as 
music is in others. The form of inner consist- 
ency is pursued far beyond the line at which 
collateral profits stop. Such men systematize 
and classify and schematize and make synop- 
tical tables and invent ideal objects for the pure 
love of unifying. Too often the results, glow-- 
ing with ‘truth’ for the inventors, seem pa- 
thetically personal and artificial to bystanders. 
Which is as much as to say that the purely 

99 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

theoretic criterion of truth can leave us in the 
lurch as easily as any other criterion, and that 
the absolutists, for all their pretensions, are 
‘in the same boat’ concretely with those whom 
they attack. 

I am well aware that this paper has been 
rambling in the extreme. But the whole sub- 
ject is inductive, and sharp logic is hardly yet 
in order. *My great trammel has been the non- 
existence of any definitely stated alternative 
on my opponents’ part. It may conduce to 
clearness if I recapitulate, in closing, what I 
conceive the main points of humanism to be. 
They are these : — 

1. An experience, perceptual or conceptual, 
must conform to reality in order to be true. 

2. By ‘reality’ humanism means nothing 
more than the other conceptual or perceptual 
experiences with which a given present expe- 
rience may find itself in point of fact mixed up. 1 

1 This is meant merely to exclude reality of an ‘unknow- 
able* sort, of which no account in either perceptual or con- 
ceptual terms can be given. It includes of course any amount 
of empirical reality independent of the knower. Pragmatism 
is thus ‘epistemologically* realistic in its account. 

100 



HUMANISM AND TRUTH 

3. By ‘conforming/ humanism means tak- 
ing account-of in such a way as to gain any in- 
tellectually and practically satisfactory result. 

4. To 'take account-of’ and to be ‘satis- 
factory’ are terms that admit of no definition, 
so many are the ways in which these require- 
ments can practically be worked out. 

5. Vaguely and in general, we take account 
of a reality by 'preserving it in as unmodified 
a form as possible. But, to be then satisfac- 
tory, it must not contradict other realities out- 
side of it which claim also to be preserved. 
That we must preserve all the experience we 
can and minimize contradiction in what we 
preserve, is about all that can be said in ad- 
vance. 

6. The truth which the conforming experi- 
ence embodies may be a positive addition to 
the previous reality, and later judgments may 
have to conform to it. Yet, virtually at least, it 
may have been true previously. Pragmatically, 
virtual and actual truth mean the same thing : 
the possibility of only one answer, when once 
the question is raised. 



IV 


THE RELATION BETWEEN KNOWER 
AND KNOWN 1 

Throughout the history of philosophy the 
subject and its object have been treated as ab- 
solutely discontinuous entities ; and thereupon 
the presence of the latter to the former, or the 
‘apprehension’ by the former of the latter, has 
assumed a paradoxical character which all 
sorts of theories had to be invented to over- 
come. Representative theories put a mental 
‘representation,’ ‘image,’ or ‘content’ into 
the gap, as a sort of intermediary. Common- 
sense theories left the gap untouched, declaring 
our mind able to clear it by a self-transc'en<f- 
ing leap. Transcendentalist theories left it 
impossible to traverse* by finite knowers, and 
brought an absolute in to perform the saltatory 
act. All the while, in the very bosom of the 
finite experience, every conjunction required 

1 Extract from an article entitled ‘ A World of Pure Experi- 
ence/ in the Journal of Philosophy, etc*, September 29, 1904. 

102 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

to make the relation intelligible is given in 
full. Either the knower and the known are: 

(1) the self-same piece of experience taken 
twice over in different contexts ; or they are 

(2) two pieces of actual experience belong- 
ing to the same subject, with definite tracts of 
conjunctive transitional experience between 
them; or 

(3) the known is a possible experience 
either of that subject or another, to which the 
said conjunctive transitions would, lead, if 
sufficiently prolonged. 

To discuss all the ways in which one expe- 
rience may function as the knower of another, 
would be incompatible with the limits of this 
essay. I have treated of type 1, the kind of 
knowledge called perception, m an article in 
the Journal of Philosophy, for September 1, 
1904, called ‘Does consciousness exist?’ This 
is the type of case in which the mind enjoys 
direct ‘acquaintance’ with a present object. 
In the other types the mind has ‘knowledge- 
about’ an object not immediately there. Type 
3 can always formally and hypothetically be 

103 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

reduced to type 2, so that a brief description 
of that type will now put the present reader 
sufficiently at my point of view, and make him 
see what the actual meanings of the mysterious 
cognitive relation may be. 

Suppose me to be sitting here in my library 
at Cambridge, at ten minutes’ walk from ‘ Me- 
morial Hall,’ and to be thinking truly of the 
latter object. My mind may have before it 
only the name, or it may have a clear image, 
or it may have a very dim image of the hall, 
but such an intrinsic difference in the image 
makes no difference in its cognitive function. 
Certain extrinsic phenomena, special experi- 
ences of conjunction, are what impart to the 
image, be it what it may, its knowing office. 

For instance, if you ask me what hall I mean 
by my image, and I can tell you nothing ; or if 
I fail to point or lead you towards the Harvard 
Delta ; or if, being led by you, I am uncertain 
whether the Hall I see be what I had in mind 
or not; you would rightly deny that I had 
‘meant’ that particular hall at all, even tho 
my mental image might to some degree have 

104 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

resembled it. The resemblance would count 
in that case as coincidental merely, for all sorts 
of things of a kind resemble one another in 
this world without being held for that reason 
to take cognizance of one another. 

On the other hand, if I can lead you to the 
hall, and tell you of its history and present 
uses; if in its presence I feel my idea, how- 
ever imperfect it may have been, to have led 
hither and to be now terminated;, if the asso- 
ciates of the image and of the felt hall run 
parallel, so that each term of the one context 
corresponds serially, as I walk, with an answer- 
ing term of the other; why then my soul was 
prophetic, and my idea must be, and by com- 
mon consent would be, called cognizant of 
reality. That percept was what I meant , for 
into it my idea has passed by conjunctive ex- 
periences of sameness and fulfilled intention. 
Nowhere is there jar, but every later moment 
continues and corroborates an earlier one. 

In this continuing and corroborating, taken 
in no transcendental sense, but denoting defi- 
nitely felt transitions, lies all that the knowing 

105 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

of a percept by an idea can possibly contain or 
signify. Wherever such transitions are felt, 
the first experience knows the last one. Where 
they do not, or where even as possibles they 
can not, intervene, there can be no pretence of 
knowing. In this latter case the extremes will 
be connected, if connected at all, by inferior 
relations — bare likeness or succession, or by 
‘withness’ alone. Knowledge of sensible reali- 
ties thus comes to life inside the tissue of ex- 
perience. It is made; and made by relations 
that unroll themselves in time. Whenever cer- 
tain intermediaries are given, such that, as they 
develop towards their terminus, there is expe* 
rience from point to point of one direction fol- 
lowed, and finally of one process fulfilled, the 
result is that their starting-point thereby becomes 
a knower and their terminus an object meant or 
known. That is all that knowing (in the sim- 
ple case considered) can be known-as, that is 
the whole of its nature, put into experiential 
terms. Whenever such is the sequence of our 
experiences we may freely say that we had the 
terminal object ‘in mind’ from the outset, 

106 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

even altho at the outset nothing was there in 
us but a flat piece of substantive experience 
like any other, with no self-transcendency 
about it, and no mystery save the mystery of 
coming into existence and of being gradually 
followed by other pieces of substantive expe- 
rience, with conjunctively transitional experi- 
ences between. That is what we mean here by 
the object’s being ‘in mind.’ Of any deeper 
more real way of its being in mind we have no 
positive conception, and we have no right to 
discredit our actual experience by talking of 
such a way at all. 

I know that many a reader will rebel at this. 
‘Mere intermediaries,’ he w r ill say, ‘even tho 
they be feelings of continuously growing ful- 
filment, only separate the knower from the 
known, whereas what we have in knowledge 
is a kind of immediate touch of the one by 
the- other, an “ apprehension ” in the etymo- 
logical sense of the word, a leaping of the 
chasm as by lightning, an act by which two 
terms are smitten into one over the head of 
their distinctness. All these dead intermedi- 

107 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


aries of yours are out of each other, and out- 
side of their termini still.’ 

But do not such dialectic difficulties remind 
us of the dog dropping his bone and snapping 
at its image in the water ? If we knew any more 
real kind of union aliunde, we might be en- 
titled to brand all our empirical unions as a 
sham. -But unions by continuous transition 
are the only ones we know of, whether in this 
matter of a knowledge-about that terminates 
in an acquaintance, whether in personal iden- 
tity, in logical prediction through the copula 
‘is,’ or elsewhere. If anywhere there were 
more absolute unions, they could only reveal 
themselves to us by just such conjunctive re- 
sults. These are what the unions are worth, 
these are all that we can ever 'practically mean 
by union, by continuity. Is it not time to re- 
peat what Lotze said of substances, that to act 
like one is to be one ? * Should we not say here 
that to be experienced as continuous is to be 
really continuous, in a world where experi- 
ence and reality come to the same thing? In 
a picture gallery a painted hook will serve to 

108 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

hang a painted chain by, a painted cable will 
hold a painted ship. In a world where both 
the terms and their distinctions are affairs of 
experience, conjunctions that are experienced 
must be at least as real as anything else. They 
will be ‘absolutely’ real conjunctions, if we 
have no transphenomenal absolute ready, to 
derealize the whole experienced world by, at 
a stroke. 

So much for the essentials of the cognitive 
relation where the knowledge is conceptual in 
type, or forms knowledge * about’ an object. 
It consists in intermediary experiences (pos- 
sible, if not actual) of continuously developing 
progress, and, finally, of fulfilment, when the 
sensible percept which is the object is reached. 

* The percept here not only verifies the concept, 
proves its function of knowing that percept 
to be true, but the percept’s existence as the 
terminus of the chain of intermediaries creates 
the function. Whatever terminates that chain 
was, because it now proves itself to be, what 
the concept ‘had in mind.’ 

109 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

The towering importance for human life 
of this kind of knowing lies in the fact that 
» an experience that knows another can figure 
as its representative, not in any quasi-miracu- 
lous ‘ epistemological ’ sense, but in the definite 
practical sense of being its substitute in various 
operations, sometimes physical and some- 
times mental, which lead us to its associates 
and results. * By experimenting on our ideas 
of reality, we may save ourselves the trouble 
of experimenting on the real experiences which 
they severally mean. The ideas form related 
systems, corresponding point for point to the 
systems which the realities form ; and by letting 
an ideal term call up its associates systemati- 
cally, we may be led to a terminus which the 
corresponding real term would have led to in 
case we had operated on the real world. And 
this brings us to the general question of sub- 
stitution. 

What, exactly, in a system of experiences, 
does the ‘substitution’ of one of them for 
another mean ? 


110 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

According to my view, experience as a whole 
is a process in time, whereby innumerable 
particular terms lapse and are superseded by 
others that follow upon them by transitions 
which, whether disjunctive or conjunctive in 
content, are themselves experiences, and must 
in general be accounted at least as real as the 
terms which they relate. What the nature of 
the event called ‘superseding’ signifies, de- 
pends altogether on the kind of transition that 
obtains. Some experiences simply abolish 
their predecessors without continuing them 
in any way. Others are felt to increase or to 
enlarge their meaning, to carry out their pur- 
pose, or to bring us nearer to their goal. They 
‘represent’ them, and may fulfil their function 
better than they fulfilled it themselves. But to 
‘fulfil a function ’ in a world of pure experience 
can be conceived and defined in only one pos- 
sible way. In such a world transitions and 
arrivals (or terminations) are the only events 
that happen, tho they happen by so many sorts 
of path. ,The only function that one experi- 
ence can perform is to lead into another expe- 

111 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

rience ; and the only fulfilment we can speak of 
is the reaching of a certain experienced end. 
When one experience leads to (or can lead to) 
the same end as another, they agree in func- 
tion. But the whole system of experiences as 
they are immediately given presents itself as a 
quasi-chaos through which one can pass out of 
an initial term in many directions and yet end 
in the same terminus, moving from next to next 
by a great many possible paths. 

Either one of these paths might be a func- 
tional substitute for another, and to follow 
one rather than another might on occasion 
be an advantageous thing to do. As a matter 
of fact, and in a general way, the paths that 
run through conceptual experiences, that is, 
through ‘thoughts’ or ‘ideas’ that ‘know’ the 
things in which they terminate, are highly ad- 
vantageous paths to follow. Not only do they 
yield inconceivably rapid transitions ; but, 
owing to the ‘universal’ character 1 which 

1 Of which all that need be said in this essay is that it also 
can be conceived as functional, and defined in terms of transi- 
tions, or of the possibility of such. 

112 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 


they frequently possess, and to their capacity 
for association with one another in great sys- 
tems, they outstrip the tardy consecutions of 
the things themselves, and sweep us on towards 
our ultimate termini in a far more labor-saving 
way than the following of trains of s ens ible 
perception ever could. Wonderful are the new 
cuts and the short-circuits the thought-paths 
make. ' Most thought-paths, it is true, are sub- 
stitutes for nothing actual ; they end outside the 
real world altogether, in wayward fancies, uto- 
pias, fictions or mistakes. But where they do 
re-enter reality and terminate therein, we sub- 
stitute them always ; and with these substitutes 
we pass the greater number of our hours . 1 

1 This is why I called our experiences, taken all together, 
a quasi-chaos *There is vastly more discontinuity in the sum 
total of experiences than we commonly suppose. The object- 
ive nucleus of every man’s experience, his own body, is, it is 
true, a continuous percept, and equally continuous as a per- 
cept (though we may be inattentive to it) is the material en- 
vironment of that body, changing by gradual transition when 
the body moves. But the distant parts of the physical world 
at all times absent from us, and form conceptual objects 
merely, into the perceptual reality of which our life inserts 
itself at points discrete and relatively rare. Round their sev- 
eral objective nuclei, partly shared and common partly dis- 

113 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


Whosoever feels his experience to be some- 
thing substitutional even while he has it, may 
be said to have an experience that reaches 
beyond itself. From inside of its own entity 
it says ‘more,’ and postulates reality existing 
elsewhere. For the transcendentalist, who 
holds knowing to consist in a salto mortale 
across an * epistemological chasm,’ such an idea 
presents no difficulty ; but it seems at first sight 
as if it might be inconsistent with an empiri- 
cism like our own. Have we not explained that 
conceptual knowledge is made such wholly by 
the existence of things that fall outside of the 
knowing experience itself — by intermediary 
experiences and by a terminus that fulfils ? 

Crete, of the real physical world, innumerable thinkers, pursuing 
their several lines of physically true cogitation, trace paths 
that intersect one another only at discontinuous perceptual 
points, and the rest of the time are quite incongruent; and 
around all the nuclei of shared ‘reality’ floats the vast cloud 
of experiences that are wholly subjective, that are non-sub- 
stitutional, that find not even an eventual ending for them- 
selves in the perceptual world — the mere day-dreams and 
joys and sufferings and wishes of the individual minds Thesg 
exist with one another, indeed, and with the objective nuclei, 
but out of them it is probable that to all eternity no inter- 
related system of any kind will ever be made. 

114 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 


Can the knowledge be there before these ele- 
ments that constitute its being have come? 
And, if knowledge be not there, how can ob- 
jective reference occur? 

The key to this difficulty lies in the distinc- 
tion between knowing as verified and com- 
pleted, and the same knowing as in transit and 
on its way. To recur to the Memorial Hall 
example lately used, it is only when our idea 
of the Hall has actually terminated in the 
percept that we know ‘for certain’ that from 
the beginning it was truly cognitive of that. 
Until established by the end of the process, 
its quality of knowing that, or indeed of know- 
ing anything, could still be doubted; and yet 
the knowing really was there, as the result now 
shows. We were virtual knowers of the Hall 
long before we were certified to have been its 
actual knowers, by the percept’s retroactive 
validating power. Just so we are ‘ mortal ’ 
all the time, by reason of the virtuality of 
the inevitable event which will make us so 
when it shall have come. 

Now the immensely greater part of all our 
115 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

knowing never gets beyond this virtual stage. 
It never is completed or nailed down. I speak 
not merely of our ideas of imperceptibles like 
ether-waves or dissociated ‘ions,’ or of ‘ejects’ 
like the contents of our neighbors’ minds; I 
speak also of ideas which we might verify if we 
would take the trouble, but which we hold for 
true altho unterminated perceptually, because 
nothing says ‘no’ to us, and there is no con- 
tradicting truth in sight. * To continue thinking 
unchallenged is, ninety-nine times out of a hun- 
dred, our practical substitute for knowing in the 
completed sense . As each experience runs by 
cognitive transition into the next one, and we 
nowhere feel a collision with what we elsewhere 
count as truth or fact, we commit ourselves to 
the current as if the port were sure. We live, as 
it were, upon the front edge of an advancing 
wave-crest, and our sense of a determinate 
direction in falling forward is all we cover of 
the future of our path. It is as if a differential 
quotient should be conscious and treat itself as 
an adequate substitute for a traced-out curve. 
Our experience, inter alia, is of variations of rate 

116 



KNOWER AND KNOWN 

and of direction, and lives in these transitions 
more than in the journey’s end. The experi- 
ences of tendency are sufficient to act upon — 
what more could we have done at those mo- 
ments even if the later verification comes com- 
plete ? 

This is what, as a radical empiricist, I say 
to the charge that the objective reference which 
is so flagrant a character of our experiences 
involves a chasm and a mortal leap. A posi- 
tively conjunctive transition involves neither 
chasm nor leap. Being the very original of 
what we mean by continuity, it makes a con- 
tinuum wherever it appears. Objective refer- 
ence is an incident of the fact that so much 
of our experience comes as an insufficient and 
consists of process and transition. Our fields 
of experience have no more definite bounda- 
ries than have our fields of view. Both are 
fringed forever by a more that continuously de- 
velops, and that continuously supersedes them 
as life proceeds. The relations, generally speak- 
ing, are as real here as the terms are, and the 
only complaint of the transcendentalist’s with 

117 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


which I could at all sympathize would be his 
charge that, by first making knowledge to con- 
sist in external relations as I have done, and 
by then confessing that nine-tenths of the time 
these are not actually but only virtually there, 
I have knocked the solid bottom out of the 
whole business, and palmed off a substitute 
of knowledge for the genuine thing. Only the 
admission, such a critic might say, that our 
ideas are self- transcendent and 4 true ’ already ; 
in advance of the experiences that are to ter- 
minate them, can bring solidity back to know- 
ledge in a world like this, in which transitions 
and terminations are only by exception fulfilled. 

This seems to me an excellent place for 
applying the pragmatic method. What would 
the self-transcendency affirmed to exist in ad- 
vance of all experiential mediation or termi- 
nation, be known-as ? "What would it practi- 
cally result in for us, were it true ? 

It could only result in our orientation, in 
the turning of our expectations and practical 
tendencies into the right path; and the right 
path here, so long as we and the object are 

118 



• KNOWER AND KNOWN 

not yet face to face (or can never get face to 
face, as in the case of ejects), would be the 
path that led us into the object’s nearest neigh- 
borhood. Where direct acquaintance is lack- 
ing, ‘knowledge about’ is the next best thing, 
and an acquaintance with what actually lies 
about the object, and is most closely related 
to it, puts such knowledge within our grasp. 
Ether-waves and your anger, for example, 
are things in which my thoughts will never 
'perceptually terminate, but my concepts of 
them lead me to their very brink, to the 
chromatic fringes and to the hurtful words 
and deeds which are their really next effects. 

- Even if our ideas did in themselves possess 
the postulated self-transcendency, it would 
still remain true that their putting us into 
possession of such effects would be the sole 
cash-value of the self-transcendency for us. And 
this cash-value, it is needless to say, is verba- 
tim et literatim what our empiricist account 
pays in. On pragmatist principles therefore, 
a dispute over self-transcendency is a pure 
logomachy. Call our concepts of ejective things 

119 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

self-transcendent or the reverse, it makes no 
difference, so long as we don’t differ about 
the nature of that exalted virtue’s fruits — 
fruits for us, of course, humanistic fruits. 

The transcendentalist believes his ideas to 
be self- transcendent only because he finds that 
in fact they do bear fruits. Why need he 
quarrel with an account of knowledge that 
insists on naming this effect? Why not treat 
the working of the idea from next to next as 
the essence of its self-transcendency ? Why 
insist that knowing is a static relation out of 
time when it practically seems so much a 
function of our active life? For a thing to be 
valid, says Lotze, is the same as to make itself 
valid. When the whole universe seems only to 
be making itself valid and to be still incom- 
plete (else why its ceaseless changing?) why, 
of all things, should knowing be exempt ? Why 
should it not be making itself valid like every- 
thing else? That some parts of it may be 
already valid or verified beyond dispute, the 
empirical philosopher, of course, like any one 
else, may always hope. 



V 


THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 1 

Humanism is a ferment that has ‘come to 
stay.’ »It is not a single hypothesis or theorem, 
and it dwells on no new facts .Jf It is rather 
a slow shifting in the philosophic perspective, 
making things appear as from a new centre 
of interest or point of sight. Some writers 
are strongly conscious of the shifting, others 
half unconscious, even though their own 
vision may have undergone much change. 
The result is no small confusion in debate, 
the half-conscious humanists often taking part 
against the radical ones, as if they wished to 
count upon the other side . 8 

If humanism really be the name for such 

1 Reprinted from the Journal of Philosophy , Psychology and 
Scientific Methods , vol. ii, No, 5, March 2, 1905. 

2 Professor Baldwin, for example. His address ‘Selective 
Thinking’ ( Psychological Review , January, 1898, reprinted 
in his volume, ‘Development and Evolution’) seems to me 
an unusually well written pragmatic manifesto. Nevertheless 
in ‘The Limits of Pragmatism ’ (ibid., Januaiy, 1904), he 
(much less clearly) joins in the attack, 

121 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


a shifting of perspective, it is obvious that the 
whole scene of the philosophic stage will 
change in some degree if humanism prevails. 
The emphasis of things, their foreground and 
background distribution, their sizes and values, 
will not keep just the same . 1 If such pervasive 
consequences be involved in humanism, it is 
clear that no pains which philosophers may 
take, first in defining it, and then in further- 
ing, checking, or steering its progress, will be 
thrown away. 

It suffers badly at present from incomplete 
definition. Its most systematic advocates, 
Schiller and Dewey, have published fragment- 
ary programmes only ; and its bearing on many 

1 The ethical changes, it seems to me, are beautifully made 
evident in Professor Dewey’s series of articles, which will 
never get the attention they deserve till they are printed in a 
book. I mean: ‘The Significance of Emotions/ Psychological 
Review , vol. ii, 13, ‘The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology/ 
ibid , iii, 357; ‘Psychology and Social Practice/ ibid , vii, 105; 
‘Interpretation of Savage Mind/ ibid , ix, 217 ; ‘ Green’s Theory 
of the Moral Motive/ Philosophical Review , vol. i, 503; ‘Self- 
realization as the Moral Ideal/ ibid , ii, 652; ‘The Psychology 
of Effort/ ibid , vi, 43, ‘The Evolutionary Method as Applied 
to Morality/ ibid., xi, 107, 353; ‘Evolution and Ethics/ Monist, 
vol. vail, 321; to mention only a few. 

122 



THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 


vital philosophic problems has not been traced 
except by adversaries who, scenting heresies 
in advance, have showered blows on doctrines 
— subjectivism and scepticism, for example — 
that no good humanist finds it necessary to 
entertain. By their still greater reticences, the 
anti-humanists have, in turn, perplexed the hu- 
manists, Much of the controversy has involved 
the word ‘truth/ It is always good in debate 
to know your adversary’s point of view au- 
thentically. But the critics of humanism never 
define exactly what the word ‘truth’ signifies 
when they use it themselves. The humanists 
have to guess at their view; and the result 
has doubtless been much beating of the air. 
Add to all this, great individual differences in 
both camps, and it becomes clear that nothing 
is so urgently needed, at the stage which things 
have reached at present, as a sharper defini- 
tion by each side of its central point of view. 

Whoever will contribute any touch of sharp- 
ness will help us to make sure of what’s what 
and who is who. Any one can contribute such 
a definition, and, without it, no one knows 

123 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


exactly where he stands. If I offer my own 
provisional definition of humanism now and 
here, others may improve it, some adversary 
may be led to define his own creed more 
sharply by the contrast, and a certain quick- 
ening of the crystallization of general opinion 
may result. 


i 

The essential service of humanism, as I 
conceive the situation, is to have seen that 
tho one part of our experience may lean upon 
another part to make it what it is in any one 
of several aspects in which it may be consid- 
ered , experience as a whole is self-containing 
and leans on nothing. Since this formula also 
expresses the main contention of transcenden- 
tal idealism, it needs abundant explication 
to make it unambiguous. It seems,' Cat first 
sight, to confine itself to denying theism and 
pantheism. But, in fact, it need not deny 
either; everything would depend on the exe- 
gesis; and if the formula ever became canon- 
ical, it would certainly develop both right- 

124 



THE ESSENCE OP HUMANISM 


wing and left-wing interpreters." I myself read 
humanism theistieally and pluralistically. If 
there be a God, he is no absolute all-experi- 
encer, but simply the experiencer of widest 
actual conscious span. Read thus, humanism 
is for me a religion susceptible of reasoned de- 
fence, tho I am well aware how many minds 
there are to whom it can appeal religiously 
only when it has been monistically translated. 
Ethically the pluralistic form of it takes for 
me a stronger hold on reality than any other 
philosophy I know of — it being essentially 
a social philosophy, a philosophy of ‘ co,’ in 
which conjunctions do the work. But my 
primary reason for advocating it is its match- 
less intellectual economy. It gets rid, not only 
of the standing ‘problems’ that monism en- 
genders (‘problem of evil,’ ‘problem of free- 
dom,’ and the like), but of other metaphysical 
mysteries and paradoxes as well. 

It gets rid, for example, of the whole ag- 
nostic controversy, by refusing to entertain 
the hypothesis of trans-empirieal reality at all. 
It gets rid of any need for an absolute of the 

125 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

to 

bradleyan type (avowedly sterile for intel- 
lectual purposes) by insisting that the con- 
junctive relations found within experience are 
faultlessly real. It gets rid of the need of 
an absolute of the roycean type (similarly 
sterile) by its pragmatic treatment of the prob- 
lem of knowledge. As the views of knowledge, 
reality and truth imputed to humanism have 
been those so far most fiercely attacked, it is 
in regard to these ideas that a sharpening of 
focus seems most urgently required. I pro- 
ceed therefore to bring the views which I 
impute to humanism in these respects into 
focus as briefly as I can. 

ii 

If the central humanistic thesis, printed 
above in italics, be accepted, it will follow 
that, if there be any such thing at all as know- 
' ing, 'the knower and the object known must 
both be portions of experience. One part of 
experience must, therefore, either 
(1) Know another part of experience — in 
other words, parts must, as Professor Wood- 

126 



THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 

bridge says, 1 represent one another instead 
of representing realities outside of ‘conscious- 
ness’ — this case is that of conceptual know- 
ledge ; or else 

(2) (’’They must simply exist as so many 
ultimate thats or facts of being,'' in the first 
instance; and then, as a secondary complica- 
tion, and without doubling up its entitative 
singleness, any one and the same that in 
experience must figure alternately as a thing 
known and as a knowledge of the thing, by 
reason of two divergent kinds of context into 
which, in the general course of experience, it 
gets woven. 2 

This second case is that of sense-perception. 
There is a stage of thought that goes beyond 
common sense, and of it I shall say more 
presently; but the common-sense stage is a 
perfectly definite halting-place of thought, 
primarily for purposes of action ; and, so long 

1 In Science, November 4, 1904, p. 599. 

2 This statement is probably excessively obscure to any one 
who has not read my two articles ‘Does Consciousness Exist?' 
and * A World of Pure Experience 5 in the Journal of Philo - 
so'phy , vol. i, 1904. 


127 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


as we remain on the common-sense stage of 
thought, object and subject fuse in the fact 
of ‘presentation’ or sense-perception — the 
pen and hand which I now see writing, for 
example, are the physical realities which those 
words designate. In this case there is no self- 
transcendency implied in the knowing. Hu- 
manism, here, is only a more comminuted 
identitctisphilosophie . 

In case (1), on the contrary, the representa- 
tive experience does transcend itself in knowing 
the other experience that is its object. No 
one can talk of the knowledge of the one by 
the other without seeing them as numerically 
distinct entities, of which the one lies beyond 
the other and away from it, along some direc- 
tion and with some interval, that can be 
definitely named. But, if the talker be a 
humanist, he must also see this distance- 
interval concretely and pragmatically, and 
confess it to consist of other intervening ex- 
periences — of possible ones, at all events, 
if not of actual. To call my present idea of 
my dog, for example, cognitive of the real dog 

128 



THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 


means that, as the actual tissue of experience 
is constituted, the idea is capable of leading 
into a chain of other experiences on my part 
that go from next to next and terminate at last 
in vivid sense-perceptions of a jumping, bark- 
ing, hairy body. Those are the real dog, the 
dog’s full presence, for my common sense. 
If the supposed talker is a profound phi- 
losopher, altho they may not be the real dog 
for him, they mean the real dog, are practical 
substitutes for the real dog, as the representa- 
tion was a practical substitute for them, that 
real dog being a lot of atoms, say, or of mind- 
stuff, that lie where the sense-perceptions lie 
in his experience as well as in my own. 

iii 

The philosopher here stands for the stage 
of thought that goes beyond the stage of com- 
mon sense; and the difference is simply that 
he ‘interpolates’ and ‘extrapolates,’ where 
co mm on sense does not. For common sense, 
two men see the same identical real dog. Phi- 
losophy, noting actual differences in their per- 

129 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

ceptions, points out the duality of these latter, 
and interpolates something between them as 
a more real terminus — first, organs, viscera, 
etc.; next, cells; then, ultimate atoms; lastly, 
mind-stuff perhaps. The original sense-termini 
of the two men, instead of coalescing with each 
other and with the real dog-object, as at first 
supposed, are thus held by philosophers to 
be separated by invisible realities with which, 
at most, they are conterminous. 

Abolish, now, one of the percipients, and 
the interpolation changes into ‘extrapolation.’ 
The sense-terminus of the remaining percipient 
is regarded by the philosopher as not quite 
reaching reality. He has only carried the pro- 
cession of experiences, the philosopher thinks, 
to a definite, because practical, halting-place 
somewhere on the way towards an absolute 
truth that lies beyond. 

The humanist sees all the time, however, 
that there is no absolute transcendency even 
about the more absolute realities thus con- 
jectured or believed in. The viscera and cells 
are only possible percepts following upon that 

ISO 



THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 

of the outer body. The atoms again, tho we 
may never attain to human means of per- 
ceiving them, are still defined perceptually. 
The mind-stuff itself is conceived as a kind 
of experience; and it is possible to frame the 
hypothesis (such hypotheses can by no logic 
be excluded from philosophy) of two knowers 
of a piece of mind-stuff and the mind-stuff 
itself becoming ‘confluent’ at the moment at 
which our imperfect knowing might pass into 
knowing of a completed type. Even so do 
you and I habitually conceive our two per- 
ceptions and the real dog as confluent, tho 
only provisionally, and for the common-sense 
stage of thought. If my pen be inwardly made 
of mind-stuff, there is no confluence now 
between that mind-stuff and my visual per- 
ception of the pen. But conceivably there 
might come to be such confluence ; for, in the 
case of my hand , the visual sensations and the 
inward feelings of the hand, its mind-stuff, so 
to speak, are even now as confluent as any 
two things can be. 

There is, thus, no breach in humanistic 
131 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

epistemology. Whether knowledge be taken 
as ideally perfected, or only as true enough 
to pass muster for practice, it is hung on 
one continuous scheme. Reality, howsoever 
remote, is always defined as a terminus within 
the general possibilities of experience; and 
what knows it is defined as an experience that 
* represents ’ it, in the sense of being substitutable 
for it in our thinking because it leads to the 
same associates, or in the sense of ‘pointing to 
it’ through a chain of other experiences that 
either intervene or may intervene. 

* Absolute reality here bears the same rela- 
tion to sensation as sensation bears to concep- 
tion or imagination. Both are provisional or 
final termini, sensation being only the terminus 
at which the practical man habitually stops, 
while the philosopher projects a ‘ beyond,’ in 
the shape of more absolute reality. These ter- 
mini, for the practical and the philosophical 
stages of thought respectively, are self-support- 
ing. They are not ‘true ’of anything else, they 
simply are, are real. They ‘ lean on nothing,’ as 
my italicized formula said. Rather does the 

132 



THE ESSENCE OP HUMANISM 


whole fabric of experience lean on them, just as 
the whole fabric of the solar system, including 
many relative positions, leans, for its absolute 
position in space, on any one of its constituent 
stars. Here, again, one gets a new Identitdts- 
\ philosophic in pluralistic form. 

IV 

If I have succeeded in making this at all 
clear (tho I fear that brevity and abstract- 
ness between them may have made me fail), 
the reader will see that* the ‘truth’ of our 
mental operations must always be an intra- 
experiential affair. A conception is reckoned 
true by common sense when it can be made to 
lead to a sensation. The sensation, which for 
common sense is not so much ‘true’ as ‘real,’ 
is held to be provisionally true by the philo- 
sopher just in so far as it covers (abuts at, or 
occupies the place of) a still more absblutely 
real experience, in the possibility of which, 
to some remoter experient, the philosopher 
finds reason to believe. 

Meanwhile what actually does count for 
133 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

true to any individual trower, whether he be 
philosopher or common man, is always a re- 
sult of his apperceptions. If a novel experience, 
conceptual or sensible, contradict too emphat- 
ically our pre-existent system of beliefs, in 
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is treated 
as false. Only when the older and the newer 
experiences are congruous enough to mutually 
apperceive and modify each other, does what 
we treat as an advance in truth result. In no 
case, however, need truth consist in a relation 
between our experiences and something arche- 
typal or trans-experiential. Should we ever 
reach absolutely terminal experiences, experi- 
ences in which we all agreed, which were super- 
seded by no revised continuations, these would 
not be true, they would be real, they would 
simply be, and be indeed the angles, comers, 
and linchpins of all reality, on which the truth 
of everything else would be stayed. Only such 
other things as led to these by satisfactory con- 
junctions would be ‘true.’ Satisfactory con- 
nection of some sort with such termini is all that 
the word ‘truth’ means. On the common- 

134 



THE ESSENCE OF HUMANISM 


sense stage of thought sense-presentations 
serve as such termini. Our ideas and concepts 
and scientific theories pass for true only so far 
as they harmoniously lead back to the world 
of sense. 

I hope that many humanists will endorse 
this attempt of mine to trace the more essential 
features of that way of viewing things. I feel 
almost certain that Messrs. Dewey and Schiller 
will do so. If the attackers will also take some 
slight account of it, it may be that discussion 
will be a little less wide of the mark than it has 
hitherto been. 



VI 


A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 1 

My failure in making converts to my concep- 
tion of truth seems, if I may judge by what 
I bear in conversation, almost complete. An 
ordinary philosopher would feel disheartened, 
and a common choleric sinner would curse 
God and die, after such a reception. But in- 
stead of taking counsel of despair, I make bold 
to vary my statements, in the faint hope that 
repeated droppings may wear upon the stone, 
and that my formulas may seem less obscure 
if surrounded by something more of a ‘mass’ 
whereby to apperceive them. 

For fear of compromising other pragmatists, 
whoe’er they be, I will speak of the conception 
which I am trying to make intelligible, as my 
own conception. I first published it in the year 
1885, in the first article reprinted in the pre- 
sent book. Essential theses of this article were 
independently supported in 1893 and 1895 by 

1 Reprint from the Journal of Philosophy, July 18, 1907. 

136 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 


Professor D. S. Miller 1 and were repeated by 
me in a presidential address on ‘The know- 
ing of things together’ s in 1895. Professor 
Strong, in an article in the Journal of Phi- 
losophy, etc., 3 entitled ‘A naturalistic theory of 
the reference of thought to reality,’ called our 
account ‘the James-Miller theory of cognition,’ 
and, as I understood him, gave it his adhesion. 
Yet, such is the difficulty of writing clearly in 
these penetralia of philosophy, that each of these 
revered colleagues informs me privately that 
the account of truth I now give — which to me 
is but that earlier statement more completely 
set forth — is to him inadequate, and seems to 
leave the gist of real cognition out. If such 
near friends disagree, what can I hope from 
remoter ones, and what from unfriendly critics ? 

Yet I feel so sure that the fault must lie in 
my lame forms of statement and not in my 
doctrine, that I am fain to try once more to 
express myself. 

1 Philosophical Review , vol. ii, p. 408, and Psychological 
Review , vol. ii, p. 533. 

2 The relevant parts of which are printed above, p. 43. 

3 Vol. i, p. 253. 


137 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


I 

Are there not some general distinctions which 
it may help us to agree about in advance ? Pro- 
fessor Strong distinguishes between what he 
calls ‘ saltatory ’ and what he calls * ambulatory’ 
relations. ‘Difference,’ for example, is salta- 
tory, jumping as it were immediately from one 
term to another, but ‘distance’ in time or space 
is made out of intervening parts of experience 
through which we ambulate in succession. 
Years ago, when T. H. Green’s ideas were most 
influential, I was much troubled by his criti- 
cisms of english sensationalism. One of his 
disciples in particular would always say to me, 
‘Yes! terms may indeed be possibly sensa- 
tional in origin; but relations, what are they 
but pure acts of the intellect coming upon the 
sensations from above, and of a higher na- 
ture?’ I well remember the sudden relief it 
gave me to perceive one day that space-rela- 
tions at any rate were homogeneous with the 
terms between which they mediated. ■ The 
terms were spaces, and the relations were 

138 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

other intervening spaces . 1 For the Greenites 
space-relations had been saltatory, for me they 
became thenceforward ambulatory. 

Now the most general way of contrasting 
my view of knowledge with the popular view 
(which is also the view of most epistemologists) 
is to call my view ambulatory, and the other 
view saltatory; and the most general way of 
characterizing the two views is by saying that 
my view describes knowing as it exists con- 
cretely, while the other view only describes 
its results abstractly taken. 

I fear that most of my recalcitrant readers 
fail to recognize that what is ambulatory in 
the concrete may be taken so abstractly as to 
appear saltatory. Distance, for example, is 
made abstract by emptying out whatever is 
particular in the concrete intervals — it is re- 
duced thus to a sole ‘difference,’ a difference 
of ‘place,’ which is a logical or saltatory dis- 
tinction, a so-called ‘pure relation.’ 

The same is true of the relation called ‘ know- 
ing,’ which may connect an idea with a reality. 

1 See my Principles of Psychology, vol. ii, pp. 148 - 
139 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

My own account of this relation is ambulatory 
through and through.' I say that we know an 
object by means of an idea, whenever we am- 
bulate towards the object under the impulse 
which the idea communicates. If we believe 
in so-called ‘sensible 5 realities, the idea may 
not only send us towards its object, but may 
put the latter into our very hand, make it our 
immediate sensation. But, if, as most reflect- 
ive people opine, sensible realities are not ‘ real 5 
realities, but only their appearances, our idea 
brings us at least so far, puts us in touch with 
reality’s most authentic appearances and substi- 
tutes. 'In any case our idea brings us into the 
object’s neighborhood, practical or ideal, gets 
us into commerce with it, helps us towards its 
closer acquaintance, enables us to foresee it, 
class it, compare it, deduce it, — in short, to 
deal with it as we could not were the idea not 
in our possession. 

The idea is thus, when functionally consid- 
ered, an instrument for enabling us the better 
to have to do with the object and to act about 
it. But it and the object are both of them bits 

140 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

of the general sheet and tissue of reality at 
large ; and when we say that the idea leads us 
towards the object, that only means that it car- 
ries us forward through intervening tracts of 
that reality into the object’s closer neighbor- 
hood, into the midst of its associates at least, 
be these its physical neighbors, or be they 
its logical congeners only. Thus carried into 
closer quarters, we are in an improved situa- 
tion as regards acquaintance and conduct; and 
we say that through the idea we now know the 
object better or more truly. 

»My thesis is that the knowing here is made 
by the ambulation through the intervening 
experiences. If the idea led us nowhere, or 
from that object instead of towards it, could 
we talk at all of its having any cognitive qual- 
ity? Surely not, for it is only when taken in 
conjunction with the intermediate experiences 
that it gets related to that particular object 
rather than to any other part of nature. Those 
intermediaries determine what particular know- 
ing function it exerts. The terminus they guide 
us to tells us what object it ‘means,’ the re- 

141 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

suits they enrich us with ‘verify’ or ‘refute’ it. 
Intervening experiences are thus as indispens- 
able foundations for a concrete relation of 
cognition as intervening space is for a relation 
of distance. Cognition, whenever we take it 
concretely, means determinate ‘ambulation,’ 
through intermediaries, from a terminus a quo 
to, or towards, a terminus ad quern. As the in- 
termediaries are other than the termini, and 
connected with them by the usual associative 
bonds (be these ‘external’ or be they logical, 
i. e., classificatory, in character), there would 
appear to be nothing especially unique about 
the processes of knowing. They fall wholly 
within experience; and we need use, in de- 
scribing them, no other categories than those 
which we employ in describing other natural 
processes. 

But there exist no processes which we can- 
not also consider abstractly, eviscerating them 
down to their essential skeletons or outlines; 
and when we have treated the processes of 
knowing thus, we are easily led to regard them 
as something altogether unparalleled in na- 

142 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

ture. For we first empty idea, object and in- 
termediaries of all their particularities, in or- 
der to retain only a general scheme, and then 
we consider the latter only in its function of 
giving a result, and not in its character of be- 
ing a process. In this treatment the interme- 
diaries shrivel into the form of a mere space of 
separation, while the idea and object retain 
only the logical distinctness of being the end- 
terms that are separated. In other words, the 
intermediaries which in their concrete particu- 
larity form a bridge, evaporate ideally into an 
empty interval to cross, and then, the relation 
of the end-terms having become saltatory, the 
whole hocus-pocus of erkenntnisstheorie be- 
gins, and goes on unrestrained by further con- 
crete considerations. The idea, in ‘meaning’ 
an object separated by an ‘epistemological 
chasm’ from itself, now executes what Pro- 
fessor Ladd calls a ‘ salto mortale’; in knowing 
the object’s nature, it now ‘transcends’ its 
own. The object in turn becomes ‘present’ 
where it is really absent, etc. ; until a scheme 
remains upon our hands, the sublime para- 

143 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


doxes of which some of us think that nothing 
short of an ‘absolute’ can explain. 

The relation between idea and object, thus 
made abstract and saltatory, is thenceforward 
opposed, as being more essential and previous, 
to its own ambulatory self, and the more con- 
crete description is branded as either false or 
insufficient. The bridge of intermediaries, act- 
ual or possible, which in every real case is what 
carries and defines the knowing, gets treated as 
an episodic complication which need not even 
potentially be there. I believe that this vulgar 
fallacy of opposing abstractions to the con- 
cretes from which they are abstracted, is the 
main reason why my account of knowing is 
deemed so unsatisfactory, and I will therefore 
say a word more on that general point. 

Any vehicle of conjunction, if all its particu- 
larities are abstracted from it, will leave us with 
nothing on our hands but the original dis- 
junction which it bridged over. But to escape 
treating the resultant self-contradiction as an 
achievement of dialectical profundity, all we 
need is to restore some part, no matter how 

144 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 


small, of what we have taken away. ‘In the 
case of the epistemological chasm the first rea- 
sonable step is to remember that the chasm 
was filled with some empirical material, whether 
ideational or sensational, which performed 
some bridging function and saved us from the 
mortal leap. Restoring thus the indispensable 
modicum of reality to the matter of our dis- 
cussion, we find our abstract treatment gen- 
uinely useful. We escape entanglement with 
special cases without at the same time falling 
into gratuitous paradoxes. We can now de- 
scribe the general features of cognition, tell 
what on the whole it does for us, in a universal 
way. 

We must remember that this whole inquiry 
into knowing grows up on a reflective level. 
In any real moment of knowing, what we are 
thinking of is our object, not the way in which 
we ourselves are momentarily knowing it. 'We 
at this moment, as it happens, have knowing 
itself for our object; but I think that the reader 
will agree that his present knowing of that ob- 
ject is included only abstractly, and by antici- 

145 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

pation, in the results he may reach. What he 
concretely has before his mind, as he reasons, 
is some supposed objective instance of know- 
ing, as he conceives it to go on in some other 
person, or recalls it from his own past. As 
such, he, the critic, sees it to contain both an 
idea and an object, and processes by which the 
knower is guided from the one towards the 
other. He sees that the idea is remote from 
the object, and that, whether through interme- 
diaries or not, it genuinely has to do with it. He 
sees that it thus works beyond its immediate 
being, and lays hold of a remote reality; it 
jumps across, transcends itself. It does all this 
by extraneous aid, to be sure, but when the aid 
has come, it has done it and the result is se- 
cure. Why not talk of results by themselves, 
then, without considering means? Why not 
treat the idea as simply grasping or intuiting 
the reality, of its having the faculty anyhow, 
of shooting over nature behind the scenes and 
knowing things immediately and directly? 
Why need we always lug in the bridging ? — 
it only retards our discourse to do so. 

146 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

Such abstract talk about cognition’s re- 
sults is surely convenient; and it is surely as 
legitimate as it is convenient, so long as we 
do not forget or 'positively deny, what it ig- 
nores. We may on occasion say that our idea 
meant always that particular object, that it 
led us there because it was of it intrinsically 
and essentially. We may insist that its veri- 
fication follows upon that original cognitive 
virtue in it — and all the rest — and we shall 
do no harm so long as we know that these are 
only short cuts in our thinking. They are 
positively true accounts of fact as far as they 
go, only they leave vast tracts of fact out of 
the account, tracts of fact that have to be 
reinstated to make the accounts literally true 
of any real case. But if, not merely passively 
ignoring the intermediaries, you actively deny 
them 1 to be even potential requisites for the 
results you are so struck by, your epistemology 
goes to irremediable smash. You are as far 

1 This is the fallacy which I have called ‘vicious intellectual - 
ism’ in my book A Pluralistic Universe, Longmans, Green 
& Co., 1909. 


147 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

off the track as an historian would be, if, lost 
in admiration of Napoleon’s personal power, 
he were to ignore his marshals and his armies, 
and were to accuse you of error in describing 
his conquests as effected by their means. Of 
such abstractness and one-sidedness I accuse 
most of the critics of my own account. 

In the second lecture of the book Prag- 
matism, I used the illustration of a squirrel 
scrambling round a tree-trunk to keep out 
of sight of a pursuing man : both go round the 
tree, but does the man go round the squirrel ? 
It all depends, I said, on what you mean by 
‘going round.’ In one sense of the word the 
man ‘goes round,’ in another sense he does not. 
I settled the dispute by pragmatically dis- 
tinguishing the senses. But I told how some 
disputants had called my distinction a shuf- 
fling evasion and taken their stand on what 
they called ‘plain honest English going-round.’ 

In such a simple case few people would 
object to letting the term in dispute be trans- 
lated into its concreter equivalents. But in the 
case of a complex function like our knowing 
148 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 


they act differently. I give full concrete par- 
ticular value for the ideas of knowing in every 
case I can think of, yet my critics insist that 
‘plain honest English knowing’ is left out of 
my account. They write as if the minus were 
on my side and the plus on theirs. 

The essence of the matter for me is that 
altho knowing can be both abstractly and 
concretely described, and altho the abstract 
descriptions are often useful enough, yet 
they are all sucked up and absorbed without 
residuum into the concreter ones, and contain 
nothing of any essentially other or higher na- 
ture, which the concrete descriptions can be 
justly accused of leaving behind. Knowing 
is just a natural process like any other. There 
is no ambulatory process whatsoever, the 
results of which we may not describe, if we 
prefer to, in saltatory terms, or represent in 
static formulation. Suppose, e. g., that we 
say a man is ‘ prudent.’ Concretely, that means 
that he takes out insurance, hedges in betting, 
looks before he leaps. Do such acts constitute 
the prudence ? are they the man qua prudent ? 

149 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

Or is the prudence something by itself and 
independent of them? As a constant habit 
in him, a permanent tone of character, it is 
convenient to call him prudent in abstraction 
from any one of his acts, prudent in general 
and without specification, and to say the acts 
follow from the pre-existing prudence. There 
are peculiarities in his psycho-physical system 
that make him act prudently; and there are 
tendencies to association in our thoughts that 
prompt some of them to make for truth and 
others for error. But would the man be pru- 
dent in the absence of each and all of the 
acts ? Or would the thoughts be true if they 
had no associative or impulsive tendencies ? 
Surely we have no right to oppose static es- 
sences in this way to the moving processes in 
which they live embedded. - 
My bedroom is above my library. Does the 
‘aboveness’ here mean aught that is different 
from the concrete spaces which have to be 
moved-through in getting from the one to the 
other? It means, you may say, a pure topo- 
graphic relation, a sort of architect’s plan 

150 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

among the eternal essences. But that is not 
the full aboveness, it is only an abbreviated 
substitute that on occasion may lead my mind 
towards truer, i. e., fuller, dealings with the 
real aboveness. It is not an aboveness ante 
rem, it is a post rem extract from the above- 
ness in rebus. We may indeed talk, for cer- 
tain conveniences, as if the abstract scheme 
preceded, we may say ‘I must go up stairs 
because of the essential aboveness/ just as 
we may say that the man ‘does prudent acts 
because of his ingrained prudence,’ or that 
our ideas ‘lead us truly because of their in- 
trinsic truth.’ But this should not debar us 
on other occasions from using completer 
forms of description. A concrete matter of 
fact always remains identical under any form 
of description, as when we say of a line, 
now that it runs from left to right, and now 
that it runs from right to left. These are but 
names of one and the same fact, one more 
expedient to use at one time, one at another. 
The full facts of cognition, whatever be the 
way in which we talk about them, even when / 

151 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

we talk most abstractly, stand inalterably 
given in the actualities and possibilities of 
the experience-continuum . 1 But my critics 
treat my own more concrete talk as if it 
were the kind that sinned by its inadequacy, 
and as if the full continuum left something 
out. 

A favorite way of opposing the more ab- 
stract to the more concrete account is to accuse 
those who favor the latter of ‘confounding 
psychology with logic.’ Our critics say that 
when we are asked what truth means, we reply 
by telling only how it is arrived-at. But since 
a meaning is a logical relation, static, inde- 
pendent of time, how can it possibly be identi- 
fied, they say, with any concrete man’s ex- 
perience, perishing as this does at the instant 
of its production? This, indeed, sounds pro- 
found, but I challenge the profundity. I defy 
any one to show any difference between logic 

1 The ultimate object or terminus of a cognitive process 
may in certain instances lie beyond the direct experience of 
lie particular cognizer, but it, of course, must exist as part 
of the total universe of experience whose constitution, with 
cognition in it, the critic is discussing. 

153 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

and psychology here. The logical relation 
stands to the psychological relation between 
idea and object only as saltatory abstractness 
stands to ambulatory concreteness. Both re- 
lations need a psychological vehicle ; and the 
‘logical’ one is simply the ‘psychological’ one 
disemboweled of its fulness, and reduced to 
a bare abstractional scheme. 

A while ago a prisoner, on being released, 
tried to assassinate the judge who had sen- 
tenced him. He had apparently succeeded in 
conceiving the judge timelessly, had reduced 
him to a bare logical meaning, that of being 
his ‘enemy and persecutor,’ by stripping off 
all the concrete conditions (as jury’s verdict, 
official obligation, absence of personal spite, 
possibly sympathy) that gave its full psycho- 
logical character to the sentence as a particu- 
lar man’s act in time. Truly the sentence was 
inimical to the culprit ; but which idea of it is 
the truer one, that bare logical definition of it, 
or its full psychological specification? The 
anti-pragmatists ought in consistency to stand 
up for the criminal’s view of the case, treat 

153 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


the judge as the latter’s logical enemy, and 
bar out the other conditions as so much in- 
essential psychological stuff. 

ii 

A still further obstacle, I suspect, stands in 
the way of my account’s acceptance. Like 
Dewey and like Schiller, I have had to say that 
the truth of an idea is determined by its satis- 
factoriness. But satisfactoriness is a subjective 
term, just as idea is ; and truth is generally re- 
garded as ‘objective.’ Readers who admit that 
satisfactoriness is our only mark of truth, the 
only sign that we possess the precious article, 
will still say that the objective relation between 
idea and object which the word * truth ’ points 
to is left out of my account altogether. I fear 
also that the association of my poor name 
with the ‘will to believe’ (which ‘will,’ it 
seems to me, ought to play no part in this dis- 
cussion) works against my credit in some quar- 
ters. I fornicate with that unclean thing, my 
adversaries may think, whereas your genuine 
truth-lover must discourse in huxleyan heroics, 

154 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

and feel as if truth, to be real truth, ought to 
bring eventual messages of death to all our 
satisfactions. Such divergences certainly prove 
the complexity of the area of our discussion; 
but to my mind they also are based on mis- 
understandings, which (tho with but little hope 
of success) I will try to diminish by a further 
word of explanation. 

First, then, I will ask my objectors to define 
exactly what sort of thing it is they have in 
mind when they speak of a truth that shall be 
absolute, complete and objective; and then I 
will defy them to show me any conceivable 
standing-room for such a kind of truth outside' 
the terms of my own description. It will fall, 
as I contend, entirely within the field of my 
analysis. 

To begin with, it must obtain between an 
idea and a reality that is the idea’s object; 
and, as a predicate, it must apply to the idea 
and not to the object, for objective realities 
are not true, at least not in the universe of 
discourse to which we are now confining our- 
selves, for there they are taken as simply being, 


1 « 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

while the ideas are true of them. But we can 
suppose a series of ideas to be successively 
more and more true of the same object, and 
can ask what is the extreme approach to being 
absolutely true that the last idea might attain to. 

The maximal conceivable truth in an idea 
would seem to be that it should lead to an 
actual merging of ourselves with the object, to 
an utter mutual confluence and identification. 
On the common-sense level of belief this is 
what is supposed really to take place in sense- 
perception. My idea of this pen verifies itself 
through my percept; and my percept is held 
to be the pen for the time being — percepts 
and physical realities being treated by com- 
mon sense as identical. But the physiology 
of the senses has criticised common sense out 
of court, and the pen ‘in itself’ is now believed 
to lie beyond my momentary percept. Yet the 
notion once suggested, of what a completely 
consummated acquaintance with a reality 
might be like, remains over for our specula- 
tive purposes. Total conflux of the mind with 
the reality would be the absolute limit of truth, 

156 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

there could be no better or more satisfying 
knowledge than that. 

Such total conflux, it is needless to say, is 
already explicitly provided for , as a possibility, 
in my account of the matter. If an idea should 
ever lead us not only towards, or up to, or 
against, a reality, but so close that we and the 
reality should melt together, it would be made 
absolutely true, according to me, by that per- 
formance. 

In point of fact philosophers doubt that 
this ever occurs. What happens, they think, 
is only that we get nearer and nearer to reali- 
ties, we approximate more and more to the 
all-satisfying limit; and the definition of 
actually, as distinguished from imaginably, 
complete and objective truth, can then only 
be that it belongs to the idea that will lead us 
as close up against the object as in the nature 
of our experience is possible, literally next to 
it, for instance. 

Suppose, now, there were an idea that did 
this for a certain objective reality. Suppose 
that no further approach were possible, that 

157 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

nothing lay between, that the next step would 
carry us right into the reality; then that 
result, being the next thing to conflux, would 
make the idea true in the maximal degree that 
might be supposed practically attainable in 
the world which we inhabit. 

Well, I need hardly explain that that degree 
of truth is also provided for in my account of 
the matter. And if satisfactions are the marks 
of truth’s presence, we may add that any less 
true substitute for such a true idea would prove 
less satisfactory. Following its lead, we should 
probably find out that we did not quite touch 
the terminus. We should desiderate a closer 
approach, and not rest till we had found it. 

I am, of course, postulating here a standing 
reality independent of the idea that knows it. 
I am also postulating that satisfactions grow 
pari passu with our approximation to such 
reality . 1 If my critics challenge this latter 

1 Say, if you prefer to, that dissatisfactions decrease pan 
passu with such approximation. The approximation may be 
of any kind assignable — approximation in time or in space, 
or approximation in kind, which in common speech means 
‘copying.’ 


158 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

assumption, I retort upon them with the for- 
mer. Our whole notion of a standing reality 
grows up in the form of an ideal limit to the 
series of successive termini to which our 
thoughts have led us and still are leading us. 
Each terminus proves provisional by leaving 
us unsatisfied. The truer idea is the one that 
pushes farther ; so we are ever beckoned on by 
the ideal notion of an ultimate completely 
satisfactory terminus. I, for one, obey and 
accept that notion. I can conceive no other 
objective content to the notion of ideally per- 
fect truth than that of penetration into such a 
terminus, nor can I conceive that the notion 
would ever have grown up, or that true ideas 
would ever have been sorted out from false 
or idle ones, save for the greater sum of satis- 
factions, intellectual or practical, which the 
truer ones brought with them. Can we im- 
agine a man absolutely satisfied with an idea 
and with all its relations to his other ideas and 
to his sensible experiences, who should yet 
not take its content as a true account of 
reality? The matter of the true is thus abso- 

159 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


Iutely identical with the matter of the satis- 
factory. You may put either word first in your 
ways of talking; but leave out that whole no- 
tion of satisfactory working or leading (which 
is the essence of my pragmatistic account) 
and call truth a static logical relation, inde- 
pendent even of 'possible leadings or satisfac- 
tions, and it seems to me you cut all ground 
from under you. 

I fear that I am still very obscure. But I 
respectfully implore those who reject my doc- 
trine because they can make nothing of my 
stumbling language, to tell us in their own 
name — und zwar very concretely and articu- 
lately ! — just how the real, genuine and ab- 
solutely ‘objective’ truth which they believe in 
so profoundly, is constituted and established. 
They mustn’t point to the ‘reality’ itself, 
for truth is only our subjective relation to 
realities. What is the nominal essence of this 
relation, its logical definition, whether or not 
it be ‘objectively’ attainable by mortals? 

Whatever they may say it is, I have the 
firmest faith that my account will prove to 

160 



A WORD MORE ABOUT TRUTH 

have allowed for it and included it by antici- 
pation, as one possible case in the total mixture 
of cases. There is, in short, no room for any 
grade or sort of truth outside of the frame- 
work of the pragmatic system, outside of that 
jungle of empirical workings and leadings, 
and their nearer or ulterior terminations, of 
which I seem to have written so unskilfully. 



VII 


PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

I 1 

Professor J. B. Pratt’s paper in the Jour- 
nal of Philosophy for June 6, 1907, is so bril- 
liantly written that its misconception of the 
pragmatist position seems doubly to call for 
a reply. 

He asserts that, for a pragmatist, truth can- 
not be a relation between an idea and a reality 
outside and transcendent of the idea, but must 
lie ‘altogether within experience,’ where it will 
need ‘no reference to anything else to justify 
it’ — no reference to the object, apparently. 
The pragmatist must ‘reduce everything to 
psychology,’ aye, and to the psychology of 
the immediate moment. He is consequently 
debarred from saying that an idea that event- 
ually gets psychologically verified was already 
true before the process of verifying was com- 

1 Reprinted from the Journal of Philosophy, etc., August 
15, 1907 (vol. iv, p 464). 


162 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 


plete ; and lie is equally debarred from treating 
an idea as true provisionally so long as he only 
believes that he can verify it whenever he will. 

Whether such a pragmatist as this exists, 
I know not, never having myself met with the 
beast. We can define terms as we like ; and if 
'Mt be my friend Pratt’s definition of a prag- 
matist, I can only concur with his anti-prag- 
matism. But, in setting up the weird type, 
he quotes words from me; so, in order to es- 
cape being classed by some reader along with 
so asinine a being, I will reassert my own view 
of truth once more. 

/ , Truth is essentially a relation between two 
things, an idea, on the one hand, and a reality 
outside of the idea, on the other., This relation, 
like all relations, has its fundamentum , namely, 
the matrix of experiential circumstance, psy- 
chological as well as physical, in which the 
correlated terms are found embedded., In the 
case of the relation between ‘heir’ and ‘legacy* 
the fundamentum is a world in which there was 
a testator, and in which there is now a will and 
an executor; in the case of that between idea 


163 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

and object, it is a world with circumstances 
of a sort to make a satisfactory verification 
process, lying around and between the two 
terms. But just as a man may be called an 
heir and treated as one before the executor 
has divided the estate, so an idea may prac- 
tically be credited with truth before the veri- 
fication process has been exhaustively carried 
out — the existence of the mass pf verifying 
circumstance is enough. Where potentiality 
counts for actuality in so many other cases, 
one does not see why it may not so count here. 
We call a man benevolent not only for his kind 
acts paid in, but for his readiness to perform 
others; we treat an idea as ‘luminous’ not 
only for the light it has shed, but for that we 
expect it will shed on dark problems. Why 
should we not equally trust the truth of our 
ideas ? We live on credits everywhere ; and we 
use our ideas far oftener for calling up things 
connected with their immediate objects, than 
for calling up those ob j ects themselves . Ninety- 
nine times out of a hundred the only use we 
should make of the object itself, if we were led 

164 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

up to it by our idea, would be to pass on to those 
connected things by its means. So we con- 
tinually curtail verification-processes, letting 
>' our belief that they are possible suffice. 

What constitutes the relation known as truth, 
I now say, is just the existence in the empirical 
world of this fundamentum of circumstance 
surrounding object and idea and ready to 
be either short-circuited or traversed at full 
length. So long as it exists, and a satisfactory 
passage through it between the object and the 
idea is possible, that idea will both be true, 
and will have been true of that object, whether 
fully developed verification has taken place or 
not. The nature and place and affinities of the 
object of course play as vital a part in mak- 
ing the particular pdsSsage possible as do the 
nature and associative tendencies of the idea ; 
so that the notion that truth could fall alto- 
gether inside of the thinker’s private experience 
and be something purely psychological, is 
absurd. It is between the idea and the object 
that the truth-relation is to be sought and it 
involves both terms. 


165 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

But the ‘intellectualistic’ position, if I un- 
derstand Mr. Pratt rightly, is that, altho 
we can use this fundamentum , this mass of 
go-between experience, for testing truth, yet 
the truth-relation in itself remains as some- 
thing apart. It means, in Mr. Pratt’s words, 
merely 'this simple thing that the object of 
which one is thinking is as one thinks it.’ 

It seems to me that the word ‘as,’ which 
qualifies the relation here, and bears the whole 
‘epistemological’ burden, is anything but sim- 
ple. What it most immediately suggests is that 
the idea should be like the object ; but most of 
our ideas, being abstract concepts, bear al- 
most no resemblance to their objects. The ‘ as’ 
must therefore, I should say, be usually inter- 
preted functionally, as meaning that the idea 
shall lead us into the same quarters of experi- 
ence as the object would. Experience leads 
ever on and on, and objects and our ideas of 
objects may both lead to the same goals. The 
ideas being in that case shorter cuts, we sub- 
stitute them more and more for their objects ; 
and we habitually waive direct verification of 

166 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

each one of them, as their train passes through 
our mind, because if an idea leads as the 
object would lead, we can say, in Mr. Pratt’s 
words, that in so far forth the object is as we 
think it, and that the idea, verified thus in so 
far forth, is true enough. 

Mr. Pratt will undoubtedly accept most of 
these facts, but he will deny that they spell 
pragmatism. Of course, definitions are free 
to every one; but I have myself never meant 
by the pragmatic view of truth anything dif- 
ferent from what I now describe; and inas- 
much as my use of the term came earlier than 
my friend’s, I think it ought to have the right 
of way. But I suspect that Professor Pratt’s 
contention is not solely as to what one must 
think in order to be called a pragmatist. I am 
sure that he believes that the truth-relation 
has something more in it than the fundamen- 
\ turn which I assign can account for. Useful 
> to test truth by, the matrix of circumstance, 
he thinks, cannot found the truth-relation 
in se, for that is trans-empirical and ‘salta- 
tory.’ 


167 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

Well, take an object and an idea, and as- 
sume that the latter is true of the former — as 
eternally and absolutely true as you like. Let 
the object be as much ‘as’ the idea thinks it, 
as it is possible for one thing to be ‘as’ another. 
I now formally ask of Professor Pratt to tell 
what this ‘as ’-ness in itself consists in — for it 
seems to me that it ought to consist in some- 
thing assignable and describable, and not re- 
main a pure mystery, and I promise that if 
he can assign any determination of it whatever 
which I cannot successfully refer to some 
specification of what in this article I have called 
the empirical fundamentum, I will confess my 
stupidity cheerfully, and will agree never to 
publish a line upon this subject of truth again. 

ii 

Professor Pratt has returned to the charge 
in a whole book , 1 which for its clearness and 
good temper deserves to supersede all the rest 

1 J B. Pratt * What is Pragmatism . New York, The Mac- 
millan Company, 1909. — The comments I have printed were 
written in March, 1909, after some of the articles printed later 
in the present volume. 


168 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 


of the anti-pragmatistic literature. I wish it 
might do so; for its author admits all my es- 
sential contentions, simply distinguishing my 
account of truth as ‘modified’ pragmatism 
from Schiller’s and Dewey’s, which he calls 
pragmatism of the ‘radical’ sort. As I myself 
understand Dewey and Schiller, our views ab- 
solutely agree, in spite of our different modes 
of statement ; but I have enough trouble of my 
own in life without having to defend my 
friends, so I abandon them provisionally to 
the tender mercy of Professor Pratt’s interpre- 
tations, utterly erroneous tho I deem these to 
be. My reply as regards myself can be very 
short, for I prefer to consider only essentials, 
and Dr. Pratt’s whole book hardly takes the 
matter farther than the article to which I re- 
tort in Part I of the present paper. 

He repeats the ‘as ’-formula, as if it were 
something that I, along with other pragma- 
tists, had denied, 1 whereas I have only asked 
those who insist so on its importance to do 
something more than merely utter it — to ex- 

1 Op. cit., pp. 77-80. 

169 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

plicate it, for example, and tell us what its so 
great importance consists in. *1 myself agree 
most cordially that for an idea to be true the 
object must be ‘as’ the idea declares it, but I 
explicate the ‘as ’-ness as meaning the idea’s 
verifiability. 

Now since Dr. Pratt denies none of these 
verifying ‘workings’ for which I have pleaded, 
but only insists on their inability to serve as 
the fundamentum of the truth-relation, it 
seems that there is really nothing in the line 
of fact about which we differ, and that the 
issue between us is solely as to » how far the 
notion of workableness or verifiability is an 
essential part of the notion of ‘trueness’ — 
‘trueness’ being Dr. Pratt’s present name for 
the character of as-ness in the true idea. I 
maintain that there is no meaning left in this 
notion of as-ness or trueness if no reference to 
the possibility of concrete working on the part 
of the idea is made. 

Take an example where there can be no 
possible working. Suppose I have an idea to 
which I give utterance by the vocable ‘ skrkl,’ 

170 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

claiming at the same time that it is true. 
Who now can say that it is false, for why 
may there not be somewhere in the unplumbed 
depths of the cosmos some object with which 
‘skrkP can agree and have trueness in Dr. 
Pratt’s sense? On the other hand who can 
say that it is true, for who can lay his hand on 
that object and show that it and nothing else 
is what I mean by my word ? But yet again, 
who can gainsay any one who shall call my 
word utterly irrelative to other reality, and 
treat it as a bare fact in my mind, devoid of 
any cognitive function whatever. One of these 
three alternatives must surely be predicated of 
it. For it not to be irrelevant (or not-cognitive 
in nature), an object of some kind must be 
provided which it may refer to. Supposing 
that object provided, whether ‘ skrkl ’ is true 
or false of it, depends, according to Professor 
Pratt, on no intermediating condition whatever. 
The trueness or the falsity is even now imme- 
diately, absolutely, and positively there. 

I, on the other hand, demand a cosmic en- 
vironment of some kind to establish which of 

171 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

them is there rather than utter irrelevancy . 1 
I then say, first, that unless some sort of a nat- 
ural path exists between the ‘skrkl’ and that 
object, distinguishable among the innumer- 
able pathways that run among all the realities 
of the universe, linking them promiscuously 
with one another, there is nothing there to con- 
stitute even the 'possibility of its referring to 
that object rather than to any other. 

I say furthermore that unless it have some 
tendency to follow up that path, there is no- 
thing to constitute its intention to refer to the 
object in question. 


1 Dr. Pratt, singularly enough, disposes of this pnmal 
postulate of all pragmatic epistemology, by saying that the 
pragmatist ‘unconsciously surrenders his whole case by smug- 
gling in the idea of a conditioning environment which deter- 
mines whether or not the experience can work, and which 
cannot itself be identified with the experience or any part of 
it ’ (pp. 167-168) The ‘experience’ means here of course the 
idea, or belief; and the expression ‘smuggling in’ is to the last 
degree diverting. If any epistemologist could dispense with 
a conditioning environment, it would seem to be the anti- 
pragmatist, with his immediate saltatory trueness, independent 
of work done. "The mediating pathway which the environ- 
ment supplies is the very essence of the pragmatist’s explana- 
tion. 


172 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

Finally, I say that unless the path be strown 
with possibilities of frustration or encourage- 
ment, and offer some sort of terminal satisfac- 
tion or contradiction, there is nothing to con- 
stitute its agreement or disagreement with that 
object, or to constitute the as-ness (or‘not-as- 
ness’) in which the trueness (or falseness) is 
said to consist. 

I think that Dr. Pratt ought to do something 
more than repeat the name ‘trueness,’ in an- 
swer to my pathetic question whether that 
there be not some constitution to a relation as 
important as this. The pathway, the tendency, 
the corroborating or contradicting progress, 
need not in every case be experienced in full, 
but I don’t see, if the universe does n’t contain 
them among its possibilities of furniture, what 
logical material for defining the trueness of my 
idea is left. But if it do contain them, they and 
they only are the logical material required. 

I am perplexed by the superior importance 
which Dr. Pratt attributes to abstract trueness 
over concrete verifiability in an idea, and I 
wish that he might be moved to explain. It 

173 



THE MEANING OF TKUTH 

is prior to verification, to be sure, but so is the 
verifiability for which I contend prior, just as 
a man’s ‘mortality’ (which is nothing but the 
possibility of his death) is prior to his death, 
but it can hardly be that this abstract priority 
of all possibility to its correlative fact is what 
so obstinate a quarrel is about. I think it prob- 
able that Dr. Pratt is vaguely thinking of some- 
thing concreter than this. * The trueness of an 
idea must mean something definite in it that 
determines its tendency to work, and indeed 
towards this object rather than towards that. 
Undoubtedly there is something of this sort in 
the idea, just as there is something in man that 
accounts for his tendency towards death, and 
in bread that accounts for its tendency to 
nourish. What that something is in the 
case of truth psychology tells us:*' the idea has 
associates peculiar to itself, motor as well as 
ideational; it tends by its place and nature 
to call these into being, one after another ; and 
the appearance of them in succession is what 
we mean by the ‘workings’ of the idea. Ac- 
cording to what they are, does the trueness or 

174 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 


falseness which the idea harbored come to light. 
These tendencies have still earlier conditions 
which, in a general way, biology, psychology 
and biography can trace. This whole chain 
of natural causal conditions produces a result- 
ant state of things in which new relations, not 
simply causal, can now be found, or into 
which they can now be introduced, — the rela- 
tions namely which we epistemologists study, 
relations of adaptation, of substitutability, of 
instrumentality, of reference and of truth. 

The prior causal conditions, altho there 
could be no knowing of any kind, true or false, 
without them, are but preliminary to the ques- 
tion of what makes the ideas true or false when 
once their tendencies have been obeyed. The 
tendencies must exist in some shape anyhow, 
but their fruits are truth, falsity, or irrelevancy, 
according to what they concretely turn out to 
be. They are not ‘saltatory’ at any rate, for 
they evoke their consequences contiguously, 
from next to next only ; and not until the final 
result of the whole associative sequence, act- 
ual or potential, is in our mental sight, can we 

175 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

feel sure what its epistemological significance, 
if it have any, may be. True knowing is, in 
fine, not substantially, in itself, or ‘as such,’ 
inside of the idea from the first, any more than 
mortality as such is inside of the man, or nour- 
ishment as such inside of the bread. Some- 
thing else is there first, that practically makes 
for knowing, dying or nourishing, as the case 
may be. That something is the * nature ’ namely 
of the first term, be it idea, man, or bread, that 
operates to start the causal chain of processes 
which, when completed, is the complex fact 
to which we give whatever functional name 
best fits the case. Another nature, another 
chain of cognitive workings ; and then either 
another object known or the same object 
known differently, will ensue. 

Dr. Pratt perplexes me again by seeming to 
charge Dewey and Schiller 1 (I am not sure that 
he charges me) with an account of truth which 
would allow the object believed in not to 
exist, even if the belief in it were true. ‘Since 

1 Page 200. 

176 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 

the truth of an idea,’ he writes, ‘means merely 
the fact that the idea works, that fact is all 
that you mean when you say the idea is true ’ 
(p. 206). ‘When you say the idea is true’ — 
does that mean true for you, the critic, or true 
for the believer whom you are describing? 
The critic’s trouble over this seems to come 
from his taking the word ‘true’ irrelatively* 
whereas the pragmatist always means ‘true 
for him who experiences the workings.’ ‘But 
is the object really true or not?’ — the critic 
then seems to ask, — as if the pragmatist were 
bound to throw in a whole ontology on top of 
his epistemology and tell us what realities in- 
dubitably exist. ‘ One world at a time,’ would 
seem to be the right reply here. 

One other trouble of Dr. Pratt’s must be no- 
ticed. It concerns the ‘transcendence’ of the 
object. When our ideas have worked so as to 
bring us flat up against the object, next to it, 
‘is our relation to it then ambulatory or sal- 
tatory?’ Dr. Pratt asks. If your headache be 
my object, ‘my experiences break off where 
yours begin,’ Dr. Pratt writes, and ‘this fact 

177 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

is of great importance, for it bars out the sense 
of transition and fulfilment which forms so 
important an element in the pragmatist de- 
scription of knowledge — the sense of fulfil- 
ment due to a continuous passage from the 
original idea to the known object. If this comes 
at all when I know your headache, it comes 
not with the object, but quite on my side of the 
“epistemological gulf.” The gulf is still there 
to be transcended ” (p. 158). 

Some day of course, or even now some- 
where in the larger life of the universe, differ- 
ent men’s headaches may become confluent 
or be ‘co-conscious.’ Here and now, however, 
headaches do transcend each other and, when 
not felt, can be known only conceptually. My 
idea is that you really have a headache; it 
works well with what I see of your expression, 
and with what I hear you say; but it does n’t 
put me in possession of the headache itself. 
I am still at one remove, and the headache 
‘transcends’ me, even tho it be in nowise 
transcendent of human experience generally. 
But the ‘gulf’ here is that which the pragma- 

178 



PROFESSOR PRATT ON TRUTH 


tist epistemology itself fixes in tlie very first 
words it uses, by saying there must be an ob- 
ject and an idea. VThe idea however does n’t 
immediately leap the gulf, it only works from 
next to next so as to bridge it, fully or approxi- 
mately. If it bridges it, in the pragmatist’s 
vision of his hypothetical universe, it can be 
called a ‘true’ idea. If it only might bridge it, 
but does n’t, or if it throws a bridge distinctly 
at it, it still has, in the onlooking pragmatist’s 
eyes, what Professor Pratt calls ‘trueness.’ 
But to ask the pragmatist thereupon whether, 
when it thus fails to coalesce bodily with the 
object, it is really true or has real trueness, — 
in other words whether the headache he sup- 
poses, and supposes the thinker he supposes, 
to believe in, be a real headache or not, — 
is to step from his hypothetical universe of 
discourse into the altogether different world 
of natural fact. 



VIII 


THE PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF 

TRUTH AND ITS MISUNDER- 

STANDERS 1 

The account of truth given in my volume 
entitled Pragmatism, continues to meet with 
such persistent misunderstanding that I am 
tempted to make a final brief reply. My ideas 
may well deserve refutation, but they can get 
none till they are conceived of in their proper 
shape. The fantastic character of the cur- 
rent misconceptions shows how unfamiliar 
is the concrete point of view which pragma- 
tism assumes. Persons who are familiar with 
a conception move about so easily in it that 
they understand each other at a hint, and can 
converse without anxiously attending to their 
P’s and Q’s. I have to admit, in view of the 
results, that we have assumed too ready an 
intelligence, and consequently in many places 

1 Reprint from the Philosophical Review, January, 1908 
(vol. xvii, p. 1). 


180 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

used a language too slipshod. We should never 
have spoken elliptically. The critics have 
boggled at every word they could boggle at, 
and refused, to take the spirit rather than the 
letter of our discourse. This seems to show a 
genuine unfamiliarity in the whole point of 
view. It also shows, I think, that the second 
stage of opposition, which has already begun 
to express itself in the stock phrase that ‘what 
is new is not true, and what is true not new,’ 
in pragmatism, is insincere. -If we said no- 
thing in any degree new, why was our mean- 
ing so desperately hard to catch ? The blame 
cannot be laid wholly upon our obscurity of 
speech, for in other subjects we have attained 
to making ourselves understood. But recrimi- 
nations are tasteless ; and, as far as I personally 
am concerned, I am sure that some of the mis- 
conception I complain of is due to my doctrine 
of truth being surrounded in that volume of 
popular lectures by a lot of other opinions not 
necessarily implicated with it, so that a reader 
may very naturally have grown confused. For 
this I am to blame, — likewise for omitting 

181 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

certain explicit cautions, which the pages that 
follow will now in part supply. 

First misunderstanding: Pragmatism is only 
a re-editing of positivism. 

This seems the commonest mistake. 'Scep- 
ticism, positivism, and agnosticism agree with 
ordinary dogmatic rationalism in presuppos- 
ing that everybody knows what the word 
‘truth’ means, without further explanation. 
But the former doctrines then either suggest or 
declare that real truth, absolute truth, is inac- 
cessible to us, and that we must fain put up 
with relative or phenomenal truth as its next 
best substitute. By scepticism this is treated 
as an unsatisfactory state of affairs, while posi- 
tivism and agnosticism are cheerful about it, 
call real truth sour grapes, and consider phe- 
nomenal truth quite sufficient for all our ‘prac- 
tical’ purposes. 

In point of fact, nothing could be farther 
from all this than what pragmatism has to 
say of truth. Its thesis is an altogether pre- 
vious one. It leaves off where these other theo- 

182 



pragmatist account of truth 

ries begin, haying contented itself with the 
word truth’s definition. ‘No matter whether 
any mind extant in the universe possess truth 
or not,’ it asks, ‘ what does the notion of truth 
signify ideally ?’ ‘What kind of things would 
true judgments be in case they existed? ’"The 
answer which pragmatism offers is intended to 
cover the most complete truth that can be con- 
ceived of, ‘absolute’ truth if you like, as well as 
truth of the most relative and imperfect descrip- 
tion. This question of what truth would be like 
if it did exist, belongs obviously to a purely 
speculative field of inquiry. It is not a theory 
about any sort of reality, or about what kind of 
knowledge is actually possible; it abstracts 
from particular terms altogether, and defines 
the nature of a possible relation between two 
of them. 

As Kant’s question about synthetic judg- 
ments had escaped previous philosophers, so 
the pragmatist question is not only so subtile 
as to have escaped attention hitherto, but even 
so subtile, it would seem, that when openly 
broached now, dogmatists and sceptics alike 

183 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


fail to apprehend it, and deem the pragmatist 
to be treating of something wholly different. 
He insists, they say (I quote an actual critic), 
‘that the greater problems are insoluble by 
human intelligence, that our need of know- 
ing truly is artificial and illusory, and that our 
reason, incapable of reaching the foundations 
of reality, must turn itself exclusively towards 
action .’ There could not be a worse misappre- 
hension. 

Second misunderstanding: Pragmatism is 
; •primarily an appeal to action. 

The name ‘pragmatism,’ with its suggestions 
of action, has been an unfortunate choice, I 
have to admit, and has played into the hands 
of this mistake. But no word could protect 
the doctrine from critics so blind to the nature 
of the inquiry that, when Dr. Schiller speaks 
of ideas ‘working’ well, the only thing they 
think of is their immediate workings in the 
physical environment, their enabling us to 
make money, or gain some similar ‘practical’ 
advantage. Ideas do work thus, of course, im- 

184 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OP TRUTH 

mediately or remotely; but they work indefi- 
nitely inside of the mental world also. Not 
crediting us with this rudimentary insight, our 
critics treat our view as offering itself exclu- 
sively to engineers, doctors, financiers, and men 
of action generally, who need some sort of a 
rough and ready Weltanschauung, but have no 
time or wit to study genuine philosophy. It is 
usually described as a characteristically Ameri- 
can movement, a sort of bobtailed scheme of 
thought, excellently fitted for the man on the 
street, who naturally hates theory and wants 
cash returns immediately. 

It is quite true that, when the refined theo- 
retic question that pragmatism begins with is 
once answered, secondary corollaries of a prac- 
tical sort follow. Investigation shows that, in 
the function called truth, previous realities are 
not the only independent variables. To a cer- 
tain extent our ideas, being realities, are also 
independent variables, and, just as they follow 
other reality and fit it, so, in a measure, does 
other reality follow and fit them. When they 
add themselves to being, they partly redeter- 

185 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

mine the existent, so that reality as a whole ap- 
pears incompletely definable unless ideas also 
are kept account of. This pragmatist doctrine, 
exhibiting our ideas as complemental factors 
of reality, throws open (since our ideas are 
instigators of our action) a wide window upon 
human action, as well as a wide license to orig- 
inality in thought. But few things could be 
sillier than to ignore the prior epistemological 
edifice in which the window is built, or to talk 
as if pragmatism began and ended at the win- 
dow. This, nevertheless, is what our critics do 
almost without exception. They ignore our 
primary step and its motive, and make the rela- 
tion to action, which is our secondary achieve- 
ment, primary. 

Third misunderstanding: Pragmatists cut 
themselves off from the right to believe in eject- 
ive realities. 

They do so, according to the critics, by mak- 
ing the truth of our beliefs consist in their veri- 
fiability, and their verifiability in the way in 
which they do work for us. Professor Stout, 

186 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

in his otherwise admirable and hopeful review 
of Schiller in Mind for October, 1897, con- 
siders that this ought to lead Schiller (could 
he sincerely realize the effects of his own doc- 
trine) to the absurd consequence of being un- 
able to believe genuinely in another man’s 
headache, even were the headache there. He 
can only ‘postulate’ it for the sake of the work- 
ing value of the postulate to himself. The pos- 
tulate guides certain of his acts and leads to 
advantageous consequences; but the moment 
he understands fully that the postulate is true 
only (!)inthis sense, it ceases (or should cease) 
to be true for him that the other man really 
has a headache. All that makes the postulate 
most precious then evaporates his interest 
in his fellow-man ‘becomes a veiled form of 
self-interest, and bis world grows cold, dull, 
and heartless.’ 

Such an objection makes a curious mud- 
dle of the pragmatist’s universe of discourse. 
Within that universe the pragmatist finds some 
one with a headache or other feeling, and 
some one else who postulates that feeling. Ask- 

187 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

ing on what condition the postulate is ‘true,’ 
the pragmatist replies that, for the postulator 
at any rate, it is true just in proportion as to 
believe in it works in him the fuller sum of sat- 
isfactions. What is it that is satisfactory here ? 
Surely to believe in the postulated object, 
namely, in the really existing feeling of the 
other man. But how (especially if the postu- 
lator were himself a thoroughgoing pragma- 
tist) could it ever be satisfactory to him not to 
believe in that feeling, so long as, in Professor 
Stout’s words, disbelief ‘ made the world seem 
to him cold, dull, and heartless’? Disbelief 
would seem, on pragmatist principles, quite 
out of the question under such conditions, un- 
less the heartlessness of the world were made 
probable already on other grounds. And since 
the belief in the headache, true for the subject 
assumed in the pragmatist’s universe of dis- 
course, is also true for the pragmatist who for 
his epitemologizing purposes has assumed that 
entire universe, why is it not true in that uni- 
verse absolutely ? The headache believed in is 
a reality there, and no extant mind disbelieves 

18S 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 


it, neither the critic’s mind nor his subject’s! 
Have our opponents any better brand of truth 
in this real universe of ours that they can show 
us ? 1 

1 I see here a chance to forestall a criticism which some one 
may make on Lecture 331 of my Pragmatism , where, on pp. 
96-100, 1 said that ‘God’ and ‘Matter’ might be regarded as 
synonymous terms, so long as no differing future consequences 
were deducible from the two conceptions The passage was 
transcribed from my address at the California Philosophical 
Union, reprinted in the Journal of Philosophy, vol. i, p. 673* 
I had no sooner given the address than I perceived a flaw in 
that part of it, but I have left the passage unaltered ever since, 
because the flaw did not spoil its illustrative value. The flaw 
was evident when, as a case analogous to that of a godless uni- 
verse, I thought of what I called an ‘automatic sweetheart/ 
meaning a soulless body which should be absolutely indistin- 
guishable from a spiritually animated maiden, laughing, talk- 
ing, blushing, nursing us, and performing all feminine offices 
as tactfully and sweetly as if a soul were in her. Would any 
one regard her as a full equivalent ? Certainly not, and why ? 
Because, framed as we are, our egoism craves above all things 
inward sympathy and recognition, love and admiration. The 
outward treatment is valued mainly as an expression, as a 
manifestation of the accompanying consciousness believed in. 
Pragmatically, then, belief in the automatic sweetheart would 
not work , and in point of fact no one treats it as a serious 
hypothesis. The godless universe would be exactly similar. 
Even if matter could do every outward thing that God does, the 
idea of it would not work as satisfactorily, because the chief 
call for a God on modern men’s part is for a being who will 

189 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


So much for the third misunderstanding, 
which is but one specification of the following 
still wider one. 

Fourth misunderstanding: No 'pragmatist 
can be a realist in his epistemology. 

This is supposed to follow from his state- 
ment that the truth of our beliefs consists in 
general in their giving satisfaction. Of course 
satisfaction per se is a subjective condition; 
so the conclusion is drawn that truth falls 
wholly inside of the subject, who then may 
manufacture it at his pleasure. True beliefs 
become thus wayward affections, severed from 
all responsibility to other parts of experience. 

It is difficult to excuse such a parody of the 
pragmatist’s opinion, ignoring as it does every 
element but one of his universe of discourse. 
The terms of which that universe consists posi- 
tively forbid any non-realistic interpretation 
of the function of knowledge defined there. 

inwardly recognize them and judge them sympathetically. 
Matter disappoints this craving of our ego, so God remains 
for most men the truer hypothesis, and indeed remains so 
for definite pragmatic reasons. 

190 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

The pragmatizing epistemologist posits there 
a reality and a mind with ideas. What, now, 
he asks, can make those ideas true of that 
reality ? Ordinary epistemology contents itself 
with the vague statement that the ideas must 
‘correspond’ or ‘agree’ ; the pragmatist insists 
on being more concrete, and asks what such 
‘agreement’ may mean in detail. He finds first 
that the ideas must point to or lead towards 
that reality and no other, and then that the 
pointings and leadings must yield satisfac- 
tion as their result. So far the pragmatist is 
hardly less abstract than the ordinary slouchy 
epistemologist; but as he defines himself far- 
ther, he grows more concrete. The entire quar- 
rel of the intellectualist with him is over his 
concreteness, intellectualism contending that 
the vaguer and more abstract account is here 
the more profound. The concrete pointing and 
leading are conceived by the pragmatist to be 
the work of other portions of the same universe 
to which the reality and the mind belong, in- 
termediary verifying bits of experience with 
which the mind at one end, and the reality at 

191 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


the other, are joined. The ‘satisfaction/ in 
turn, is no abstract satisfaction uberhav.pt, felt 
by an unspecified being, but is assumed to con- 
sist of such satisfactions (in the plural) as con- 
cretely existing men actually do find in their 
beliefs. As we humans are constituted in point 
of fact, we find that to believe in other men’s 
minds, in independent physical realities, in past 
events, in eternal logical relations, is satisfac- 
tory. .We find hope satisfactory. We often 
find it satisfactory to cease to doubt. Above 
all we find consistency satisfactory, consistency 
between the present idea and the entire rest of 
our mental equipment, including the whole 
order of our sensations, and that of our intui- 
tions of likeness and difference, and our whole 
stock of previously acquired truths. 

The pragmatist, being himself a man, and 
imagining in general no contrary lines of truer 
belief than ours about the ‘reality’ which he 
has laid at the base of his epistemological dis- 
cussion, is willing to treat our satisfactions as 
possibly really true guides to it, not as guides 
true solely for us. It would seem here to be the 

192 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

duty of his critics to show with some explicit- 
ness why, being our subjective feelings, these 
satisfactions can not yield ‘objective’ truth. 
The beliefs which they accompany ‘posit’ the 
assumed reality, ‘correspond’ and ‘agree’ 
with it, and ‘fit’ it in perfectly definite and 
assignable ways, through the sequent trains of 
thought and action which form their verifica- 
tion, so merely to insist on using these words 
abstractly instead of concretely is no way of 
driving the pragmatist from the field, — his 
more concrete account virtually includes his 
critic’s. If our critics have any definite idea 
of a truth more objectively grounded than 
the kind we propose, why do they not show 
it more articulately? As they stand, they 
remind one of Hegel’s man who wanted ‘fruit,’ 
but rejected cherries, pears, and grapes, be- 
cause they were not fruit in the abstract. We 
offer them the full quart-pot, and they pry for 
the empty quart-capacity. 

But here I think I hear some critic retort as 
follows: ‘If satisfactions are all that is needed 
to make truth, how about the notorious fact 

193 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

that errors are so often satisfactory ? ‘And how 
about the equally notorious fact that certain 
true beliefs may cause the bitterest dissatisfac- 
tion ? Is n’t it clear that not the satisfaction 
which it gives, but the relation of the belief 
to the reality is all that makes it true ? Suppose 
there were no such reality, and that the sat- 
isfactions yet remained : would they not then 
effectively work falsehood? Can they conse- 
quently be treated distinctively as the truth- 
builders? It is the inherent relation to reality 
of a belief that gives us that specific truth- 
satisfaction, compared with which all other sat- 
isfactions are the hollowest humbug. The sat- 
isfaction of knowing truly is thus the only one 
which the pragmatist ought to have considered. 
As a 'psychological sentiment, the anti-prag- 
matist gladly concedes it to him, but then only 
as a concomitant of truth, not as a constituent. 
What constitutes truth is not the sentiment, 
but the purely logical or objective function of 
rightly cognizing the reality, and the pragma- 
tist’s failure to reduce this function to lower 
values is patent.’ 


194 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OP TRUTH 


Such anti-pragmatism as this seems to me 
a tissue of confusion. To begin with, when the 
pragmatist says ‘indispensable,’ it confounds 
this with ‘sufficient.’ The pragmatist calls sat- 
isfactions indispensable for truth-building, but 
I haz e— eyerywrhere-. called - them, insufficient 
unless reality be also incidentally led to. If the 
reality assumed were cancelled from the prag- 
matist’s universe of discourse, he would straight- 
way give the name of falsehoods to the beliefs 
remaining, in spite of all their satisfactoriness. 
r For him, as for his critic, there can be no truth 
if there is nothing to be true about. Ideas are 
so much flat psychological surface unless some 
mirrored matter gives them cognitive lustre. 
This is why as a pragmatist I have so care- 
fully posited ‘reality’ db initio, and why, 
throughout my whole discussion, I remain an 
epistemological realist . 1 

The anti-pragmatist is guilty of the further 


1 I need hardly remind the reader that both sense-percepts 
and percepts of ideal relation (comparisons, etc.) should be 
classed among the realities. The bulk of our mental ‘stock’ 
consists of truths concerning these terms. 

195 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 


confusion of imagining that, in undertaking 
to give him an account of what truth formally 
means, we are assuming at the same time to 
provide a warrant for it, trying to define the 
occasions when he can be sure of materially 
possessing it. Our making it hinge on a reality 
so ‘independent’ that when it comes, truth 
comes, and when it goes, truth goes with it, 
disappoints this naive expectation, so he deems 
our description unsatisfactory. I suspect that 
under this confusion lies the still deeper one of 
not discriminating sufficiently between the two 
notions, truth and reality. ’'Realities are not 
true , they are; and beliefs are true of them. But 
I suspect that in the anti-pragmatist mind the 
two notions sometimes swap their attributes. 
The reality itself, I fear, is treated as if ‘true,’ 
and conversely. Whoso tells us of the one, it 
is then supposed, must also be telling us of the 
other; and a true idea must in a manner be, or 
at least yield without extraneous aid, the reality 
it cognitively is possessed of. 

To this absolute-idealistic demand pragma- 
tism simply opposes its non possumus. If there 
, 196 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OP TRUTH 

is to be truth, it says, both realities and beliefs 
about them must conspire to make it; but 
whether there ever is such a thing, or how 
anyone can be sure that his own beliefs possess 
it, it never pretends to determine. 'That truth- 
satisfaction par excellence which may tinge a 
belief unsatisfactory in other ways, it easily 
explains as the feeling of consistency with the 
stock of previous truths, or supposed truths, 
of which one’s whole past experience may have 
left one in possession. 

But are not all pragmatists sure that their 
own belief is right? their enemies will ask at 
this point; and this leads me to the 

Fifth misunderstanding: What pragmatists 
say is inconsistent with their saying so. 

A correspondent puts this objection as fol- 
lows : ‘When you say to your audience, “prag- 
matism is the truth concerning truth,” the first 
truth is different from the second. About the 
first you and they are not to be at odds ; you 
are not giving them liberty to take or leave it 
according as it works satisfactorily or not for 

197 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

their private uses. Yet the second truth, which 
ought to describe and include the first, affirms 
this liberty. Thus the intent of your utterance 
seems to contradict the content of it.’ 

General scepticism has always received this 
same classic refutation. ‘You have to dogma- 
tize,’ the rationalists say to the sceptics, ‘ when- 
ever you express the sceptical position; so 
your lives keep contradicting your thesis.’ 
One would suppose that the impotence of so 
hoary an argument to abate in the slightest 
degree the amount of general scepticism in the 
world might have led some rationalists them- 
selves to doubt whether these instantaneous 
logical refutations are such fatal ways, after 
all, of killing off live mental attitudes. Gen- 
eral scepticism is the live mental attitude of 
refusing to conclude. It is a permanent torpor 
of the will, renewing itself in detail towards 
each successive thesis that offers, and you can 
no more kill it off by logic than you can kill 
off obstinacy or practical joking. This is why 
it is so irritating. ■‘-Your consistent sceptic 
never puts his scepticism into a formal pro- 

198 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 


position, — lie simply chooses it as a habit. 
He provokingly hangs back when he might 
so easily join us in saying yes, but he is not 
illogical or stupid, — on the contrary, he often 
impresses us by his intellectual superiority. 
This is the real scepticism that rationalists 
have to meet, and their logic does not even 
touch it. 

No more can logic kill the pragmatist’s be- 
havior : his act of utterance, so far from con- 
tradicting, accurately exemplifies the matter 
which he utters. What is the matter which 
he utters ? In part, it is this, that truth, con- 
cretely considered, is an attribute of our be- 
liefs, and that these are attitudes that follow 
satisfactions. The ideas around which the 
satisfactions cluster are primarily only hypo- 
theses that challenge or summon a belief to 
come and take its stand upon them. The prag- 
matist’s idea of truth is just such a challenge. 
He finds it ultra-satisfactory to accept it, and 
takes his own stand accordingly. But, being 
gregarious as they are, men seek to spread 
their beliefs, to awaken imitation, to infect 

199 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


others. Why should not you also find the same 
belief satisfactory ? thinks the pragmatist, and 
forthwith endeavors to convert you. You and 
he will then believe similarly ; you will hold up 
your subject-end of a truth, which will be a 
truth objective and irreversible if the reality 
holds up the object-end by being itself present 
simultaneously. What there is of self-contra- 
diction in all this I confess I cannot discover. 
The pragmatist’s conduct in his own case seems 
to me on the contrary admirably to illustrate 
his universal formula; and of all epistemolo- 
gists, he is perhaps the only one who is irre- 
proachably self-consistent. 

Sixth misunderstanding: Pragmatism ex- 
plains not what truth is, but only how it is 
arrived at. 

In point of fact it tells us both, tells us what 
it is incidentally to telling us how it is arrived 
at, — for what is arrived at except just what 
the truth is? If I tell you how to get to the 
railroad station, don’t I implicitly introduce 
you to the what, to the being and nature of 

200 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

that edifice ? It is quite true that the abstract 
word ‘how’ has n’t the same meaning as the 
abstract word * what/ but in this universe of 
concrete facts you cannot keep hows and whats 
asunder. The reasons why I find it satisfac- 
tory to believe that any idea is true, the how 
of my arriving at that belief, may be among 
the very reasons why the idea is true in real- 
ity. If not, I summon the anti-pragmatist to 
explain the impossibility articulately. 

His trouble seems to me mainly to arise 
from his fixed inability to understand how a 
concrete statement can possibly mean as much, 
or be as valuable, as an abstract one. I said 
above that the main quarrel between us and 
our critics was that of concreteness versus 
abstractness. This is the place to develop that 
point farther. 

In the present question, the links of expe- 
rience sequent upon an idea, which mediate 
between it and a reality, form and for the 
pragmatist indeed are, the concrete relation of 
truth that may obtain between the idea and 
that reality. They, he says, are all that we 

201 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

mean when we speak of the idea ‘pointing’ to 
the reality, ‘fitting’ it, ‘corresponding’ with it, 
or ‘agreeing’ with it, — they or other similar 
mediating trains of verification.* Such medi- 
ating events make the idea ‘true.’ The idea 
itself, if it exists at all, is also a concrete event : 
so pragmatism insists that truth in the singu- 
lar is only a collective name for truths in the 
plural, these consisting always of series of 
definite events; and that what intellectualism 
calls the truth, the inherent truth, of any one 
such series is only the abstract name for its 
truthfulness in act, for the fact that the ideas 
there do lead to the supposed reality in a way 
that we consider satisfactory. 

The pragmatist himself has no objection to 
abstractions. Elliptically, and ‘for short,’ he 
relies on them as much as any one, finding 
upon innumerable occasions that their com- 
parative emptiness makes of them useful sub- 
stitutes for the overfulness of the facts he meets 
with. But he never ascribes to them a higher 
grade of reality. The full reality of a truth for 
fcim is always some process of verification, in 

£02 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

which the abstract property of connecting 
ideas with objects truly is workingly embodied. 
Meanwhile it is endlessly serviceable to be able 
to talk of properties abstractly and apart from 
their working, to find them the same in in- 
numerable cases, to take them ‘out of time,’ 
and to treat of their relations to other similar 
abstractions. We thus form whole universes 
of platonic ideas ante rem, universes in posse, 
tho none of them exists effectively except in 
rebus. Countless relations obtain there which 
nobody experiences as obtaining, — as, in 
the eternal universe of musical relations, for 
example, the notes of Aennchen von Tharau 
were a lovely melody long ere mortal ears ever 
heard them. Even so the music of the future 
sleeps now, to be awakened hereafter. Or, if 
we take the world of geometrical relations, 
the thousandth decimal of tt sleeps there, tho 
no one may ever try to compute it. Or, if we 
take the universe of ‘fitting,’ countless coats 
‘fit’ backs, and countless boots ‘fit’ feet, on 
which they are not practically fitted; countless 
stones ‘fit’ gaps in walls into which no one 

SOS 



THE MEANING QF TRUTH 


seeks to fit them actually. * In the same way 
countless opinions ‘fit’ realities, and count- 
less truths are valid, tho no thinker ever 
thinks them. 

’ For the anti-pragmatist these prior timeless 
relations are the presupposition of the con- 
crete ones, and possess the profounder dig- 
nity and value. The actual workings of our 
ideas in verification-processes are as naught 
in comparison with the ‘obtainings’ of this 
discarnate truth within them. 

For the pragmatist, on the contrary, all dis- 
carnate truth is static, impotent, and relatively 
spectral, full truth being the truth that ener- 
gizes and does battle. Can any one suppose 
that the sleeping quality of truth would ever 
have been abstracted or have received a name, 
if truths had remained forever in that storage- 
vault of essential timeless ‘agreements’ and 
had never been embodied in any panting strug- 
gle of men’s live ideas for verification ? Surely 
no more than the abstract property of ‘fitting’ 
would have received a name, if in our world 
there had been no backs or feet or gaps in 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

walls to be actually fitted. Existential truth 
is incidental to the actual competition of opin- 
ions. Essential truth, the truth of the intellect- 
ualists, the truth with no one thinking it, is 
like the coat that fits tho no one has ever tried 
it on, like the music that no ear has listened 
to. It is less real, not more real, than the veri- 
fied article ; and to attribute a superior degree 
of glory to it seems little more than a piece of 
perverse abstraction-worship. As well might 
a pencil insist that the outline is the essen- 
tial thing in all pictorial representation, and 
chide the paint-brush and the camera for omit- 
ting it, forgetting that their pictures not only 
contain the whole outline, but a hundred other 
things in addition. Pragmatist truth contains 
the whole of intellectualist truth and a hundred 
other things in addition. Intellectualist truth 
is then only pragmatist truth in posse. % That 
on innumerable occasions men do substitute 
truth in posse or verifiability, for verification 
or truth in act, is a fact to which no one at- 
tributes more importance than the pragmatist : 
he emphasizes the practical utility of such a 

205 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

habit. But he does not on that account consider 
truth in fosse, — truth not alive enough ever 
to have been asserted or questioned or contra- 
dicted, — to be the metaphysically prior thing, 
to which truths in act are tributary and sub- 
sidiary. When intellectualists do this, prag- 
matism charges them with inverting the real 
relation. Truth in posse means only truths 
in act; and he insists that these latter take 
precedence in the order of logic as well as in 
that of being. 

Seventh misunderstanding: Pragmatism ig- 
nores the theoretic interest. 

This would seem to be an absolutely wanton 
slander, were not a certain excuse to be found 
in the linguistic affinities of the word ‘ prag- 
matism,’ and in certain offhand habits of 
speech of ours which assumed too great a gen- 
erosity on our reader’s part. When we spoke 
of the meaning of ideas consisting in their 
‘practical’ consequences, or of the ‘practical’ 
differences which our beliefs make to us ; when 
we said that the truth of a belief consists in its 

206 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

‘ working’ value, etc. ; our language evidently 
was too careless, for by ‘practical’ we were 
almost unanimously held to mean opposed to 
theoretical or genuinely cognitive, and the con- 
sequence was punctually drawn that a truth 
in our eyes could have no relation to any in- 
dependent reality, or to any other truth, or 
to anything whatever but the acts which we 
might ground on it or the satisfactions they 
might bring. The mere existence of the idea, 
all by itself, if only its results were satisfactory, 
would give full truth to it, it was charged, in 
our absurd pragmatist epistemology. The sol- 
emn attribution of this rubbish to us was also 
encouraged by two other circumstances. First, 
ideas are practically useful in the narrow sense, 
false ideas sometimes, but most often ideas 
which we can verify by the sum total of all 
their leadings, and the reality of whose ob- 
jects may thus be considered established be- 
yond doubt. That these ideas should be true 
in advance of and apart from their utility, that, 
in other words, their objects should be really 
there, is the very condition of their having that 

207 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

kind of utility, — the objects they connect us 
with are so important that the ideas which serve 
as the objects’ substitutes grow important also. 
This manner of their practical working was the 
first thing that made truths good in the eyes of 
primitive men ; and buried among all the other 
good workings by which true beliefs are char- 
acterized, this kind of subsequential utility 
remains. 

The second misleading circumstance was 
the emphasis laid by Schiller and Dewey on 
the fact that, unless a truth be relevant to the 
mind’s momentary predicament, unless it be 
germane to the ‘practical’ situation, — mean- 
ing by this the quite particular perplexity, — 
it is no good to urge it. It does n’t meet our 
interests any better than a falsehood would 
under the same circumstances. Tiut why our 
predicaments and perplexities might not be 
theoretical here as well as narrowly practical, 
I wish that our critics would explain. ^They 
simply assume that no pragmatist can admit 
a genuinely theoretic interest. Having used 
the phrase ‘cash-value’ of an idea, I am im- 

208 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

plored by one correspondent to alter it, ‘for 
every one thinks you mean only pecuniary 
profit and loss.’ Having said that the true is 
‘the expedient in our thinking,’ I am rebuked 
in this wise by another learned correspondent : 
‘The word expedient has no other meaning 
than that of self-interest. The pursuit of this 
has ended by landing a number of officers of 
national banks in penitentiaries. A philoso- 
phy that leads to such results must be un- 
sound.’ 

But the word ‘practical’ is so habitually 
loosely used that more indulgence might have 
been expected. When one says that a sick man 
has now practically recovered, or that an enter- 
prise has practically failed, one usually means 
just the opposite of practically in the literal 
sense. One means that, altho untrue in strict 
practice, what one says is true in theory, 
true virtually, certain to be true. Again, by the 
practical one often means the distinctively con- 
crete, the individual, particular, and effective, 
as opposed to the abstract, general, and inert. 
To speak for myself, whenever I have empha- 

209 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


sized the practical nature of truth, this is mainly 
what has been in my mind. ‘Pragmata’ are 
things in their plurality ; and in that early Cali- 
fornia address, when I described pragmatism 
as holding that ‘the meaning of any proposi- 
tion can always be brought down to some par- 
ticular consequence in our future practical ex- 
perience, whether passive or active,’ I expressly 
added these qualifying words : * the point lying 
rather in the fact that the experience must be 
particular than in the fact that it must be 
active,’ — by ‘active’ meaning here ‘practical’ 
in the narrow literal sense . 1 But particular 
consequences can perfectly well be of a theo- 

1 The ambiguity of the word ‘practical 5 comes out well in 
these words of a recent would-be reporter of our views . * Prag- 
matism is an Anglo-Saxon reaction against the intellectualism 
and rationalism of the Latin mind, , . . Man, each indi- 
vidual man is the measure of things. He is able to conceive 
none but relative truths, that is to say, illusions What these 
illusions are worth is revealed to him, not by general theory, 
but by individual practice. Pragmatism, which consists in 
experiencing these illusions of the mind and obeying them by 
acting them out, is a 'philosophy without words , a philosophy 
of gestures and of acts, which abandons what is general and 
holds only to what is particular / (Bourdeau, in Journal des 
Debats , October 29, 1907 ) 


210 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

retie nature. Every remote fact which we infer 
from an idea is a particular theoretic conse- 
quence which our mind practically works to- 
wards. The loss of every old opinion of ours 
which we see that we shall have to give up if 
a new opinion be true, is a particular theoretic 
as well as a particular practical consequence. 
After man’s interest in breathing freely, the 
greatest of all his interests (because it never 
fluctuates or remits, as most of his physical 
interests’ do), is his interest in consistency, in 
feeling that what he now thinks goes with what 
he thinks on other occasions. We tirelessly 
compare truth with truth for this sole purpose. 
Is the present candidate for belief perhaps con- 
tradicted by principle number one ? Is it com- 
patible with fact number two? and so forth. 
The particular operations here are the purely 
logical ones of analysis, deduction, compari- 
son, etc. ; and altho general terms may be used 
ad libitum, the satisfactory 'practical working of 
the candidate-idea consists in the conscious- 
ness yielded by each successive theoretic con- 
sequence in particular. It is therefore simply 

211 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

idiotic to repeat that pragmatism takes no 
account of purely theoretic interests. All it 
insists on is that verity in act means verifica- 
tions, and that these are always particulars. 
Even in exclusively theoretic matters, it in- 
sists that vagueness and generality serve to 
verify nothing. 

Eighth misunderstanding: Pragmatism is 
shut up to solipsism. 

I have already said something about this 
misconception under the third and fourth 
heads, above, but a little more may be helpful. 
The objection is apt to clothe itself in words 
like these : ‘ You make truth to consist in every 
value except the cognitive value proper; you 
always leave your knower at many r emoves 
(or, at the uttermost, at one remove) from his 
real object; the best you do is to let his ideas 
carry him towards it; it remains forever out- 
side of him, 5 etc. 

I think that the leaven working here is the 
rooted intellectualist persuasion that, to know 
a reality, an idea must in some inscrutable 

2 12 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 


fashion possess or be it . 1 For pragmatism this 
kind of coalescence is inessential. As a rule 
our cognitions are only processes of mind off 
their balance and in motion towards real ter- 
mini; and the reality of the termini, believed 
in by the states of mind in question, can be 
guaranteed only by some wider knower . 2 But 

1 Sensations may, indeed, possess their objects or coalesce 
with them, as common sense supposes that they do, and in- 
tuited differences between concepts may coalesce with the 
‘eternal’ objective differences; but to simplify our discussion 
here we can afford to abstract from these very special cases 
of knowing. 

2 The transcendental idealist thinks that, in some inex- 
plicable way, the finite states of mind are identical with the 
transfinite all-knower which he finds himself obliged to postu- 
late in order to supply a fundamentum for the relation of know- 
ing, as he apprehends it. Pragmatists can leave the question 
of identity open , but they cannot do without the wider knower 
any more than they can do without the reality, if they want to 
prove a case of knowing. They themselves play the part of the 
absolute knower for the universe of discourse which serves 
them as material for epistemologizing They warrant the real- 
ity there, and the subject's true knowledge, there, of it But 
whether what they themselves say about that whole universe 
is objectively true, ^. e , whether the pragmatic theory of truth 
is true really , they cannot warrant, — they can only believe 
it. To their hearers they can only propose it, as I propose it 
to my readers, as something to be verified ambtdando , or by 
the way in which its consequences may confirm it. 

213 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

if there is no reason extant in the universe why 
they should be doubted, the beliefs are true 
in the only sense in which anything can be true 
anyhow: they are practically and concretely 
true, namely. True in the mystical mongrel 
sense of an Identitatsphilosophie they need not 
be ; nor is there any intelligible reason why they 
ever need be true otherwise than verifiably 
and practically. It is reality’s part to possess 
its own existence; it is thought’s part to get 
into ‘touch’ with it by innumerable paths of 
verification. 

I fear that the ‘humanistic’ developments of 
pragmatism may cause a certain difficulty here. 
We get at one truth only through the rest of 
truth ; and the reality, everlastingly postulated 
as that which all our truth must keep in touch 
with, may never be given to us save in the form 
of truth other than that which we are now test- 
ing. But since Dr. Schiller has shown that 
all our truths, even the most elemental, are 
affected by race-inheritance with a human co- 
efficient, reality per se thus may appear only 
as a sort of limit; it may be held to shrivel 

£14 



PRAGMATIST ACCOUNT OF TRUTH 

to the mere place for an object, and what is 
known may be held to be only matter of our 
psyche that we fill the place with. 

It must be confessed that pragmatism, 
worked in this humanistic way, is compatible 
with solipsism. >It joins friendly hands with 
the agnostic part of kantism, with contempo- 
rary agnosticism, and with idealism generally. 
But worked thus, it is a metaphysical theory 
about the matter of reality, and flies far beyond 
pragmatism’s own modest analysis of the na- 
ture of the knowing function, which analysis 
may just as harmoniously be combined with 
less humanistic accounts of reality. One of 
pragmatism’s merits is that it is so purely epis- 
temological. It must assume realities; but it 
prejudges nothing as to their constitution, and 
the most diverse metaphysics can use it as their 
foundation. It certainly has no special affinity 
with solipsism. 

As I look back over what I have written, 
much of it gives me a queer impression, as if 
the obvious were set forth so condescendingly 

215 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


that readers might well laugh at my pompo- 
sity. It may be, however, that concreteness as 
radical as ours is not so obvious. The whole 
originality of pragmatism, the whole point in 
it, is its use of the concrete way of seeing. It 
begins with concreteness, and returns and ends 
with it. Dr. Schiller, with his two ‘practical’ 
aspects of truth, (1) relevancy to situation, and 
(2) subsequential utility, is only filling the cup 
of concreteness to the brim for us. Once seize 
that cup, and you cannot misunderstand prag- 
matism. It seems as if the power of imagining 
the world concretely might have been common 
enough to let our readers apprehend us better, 
as if they might have read between our lines, 
and, in spite of all our infelicities of expres- 
sion, guessed a little more correctly what our 
thought was. But alas ! this was not on fate’s 
programme, so we can only think, with the 
German ditty : — 


“Es war 5 zu schon gewesen, 
Es hat nicht sollen sein.” 



IX 


THE MEANING OF THE WORD 
TRUTH 1 

My account of truth is realistic, and follows 
the epistemological dualism of common sense. 
Suppose I say to you ‘The thing exists’ — is 
that true or not ? How can you tell ? Not till 
my statement has developed its meaning far- 
ther is it determined as being true, false, or 
irrelevant to reality altogether. But if now you 
ask ‘what thing ?’ and I reply ‘a desk’ ; if you 
ask ‘where ?’ and I point to a place; if you ask 
‘does it exist materially, or only in imagina- 
tion?’ and I say ‘materially’; if moreover I 
say ‘I mean that desk,’ and then grasp and 
shake a desk which you see just as I have de- 
scribed it, you are willing to call my statement 
true. But you and I are commutable here ; we 
can exchange places ; and, as you go bail for 
my desk, so I can go bail for yours. 

This notion of a reality independent of 

1 Remarks at the meeting of the American Philosophical 
Association, Cornell University, December, 1907. 

217 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


either of us, taken from ordinary social expe- 
rience, lies at the base of the pragmatist defi- 
nition of truth. With some such reality any 
statement, in order to be counted true, must 
agree. Pragmatism defines ‘agreeing’ to mean 
certain ways of ‘working/ be they actual or 
potential. Thus, for my statement ‘the desk 
exists' to be true of a desk recognized as real 
by you, it must be able to lead me to shake 
your desk, to explain myself by words that 
suggest that desk to your mind, to make a 
drawing that is like the desk you see, etc. Only 
in such ways as this is there sense in saying it 
agrees with that reality, only thus does it gain 
for me the satisfaction of hearing you corrob- 
orate me. Reference then to something deter- 
minate, and some sort of adaptation to it 
worthy of the name of agreement, are thus 
constituent elements in the definition of any 
statement of mine as ‘true/ ' 

You cannot get at either the reference or 
the adaptation without using the notion of the 
workings. That the thing is, what it is, and 
which it b (of all the possible things with that 



MEANING OF THE WORD TRUTH 

what) are points determinable only by the 
pragmatic method. The ‘which’ means a pos- 
sibility of pointing, or of otherwise singling out 
the special object; the ‘what’ means choice on 
our part of an essential aspect to conceive it by 
(and this is always relative to what Dewey calls 
our own ‘situation’) ; and the ‘that’ means our 
assumption of the attitude of belief, the reality- 
recognizing attitude. Surely for understand- 
ing what the word ‘true’ means as applied 
to a statement, the mention of such workings 
is indispensable. Surely if we leave them out 
the subject and the object of the cognitive re- 
lation float — in the same universe, ’tis true 
— but vaguely and ignorantly and without 
mutual contact or mediation. 

Our critics nevertheless call the workings 
inessential. *No functional possibilities ‘make’ 
our beliefs true, they say; they are true in- 
herently, true positively, bom ‘true’ as the 
Count of Chambord was bom ‘Henri-Cinq.’ 
Pragmatism insists, on the contrary, thatjstate- 
ments and beliefs are thus inertly and statically 

true only By courtesy : they practically pass for 

219 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


true ; but you cannot de-fine what you mean by 
calling them true without referring to their 
functional possibilities. These give its whole 
logical content to that relation to reality on a 
belief’s part to which the name ‘truth’ is ap- 
plied; a relation which otherwise remains one 
of mere coexistence or bare withness. 

The foregoing statements reproduce the es- 
sential content of the lecture on Truth in my 
book Pragmatism. Schiller’s doctrine of ‘hu- 
manism,’ Dewey’s ‘Studies in logical theory,’ 
and my own ‘radical empiricism,’ all involve 
this general notion of truth as ‘working,’ either 
actual or conceivable. But they envelop it as 
only one detail in the midst of much wider 
theories that aim eventually at determining 
the notion of what ‘reality’ at large is in its 
ultimate nature and constitution. 



X 


THE EXISTENCE OP JULIUS CJSSAR* 

My account of truth is purely logical and 
relates to its definition only. * I contend that 
you cannot tell what the word ‘true’ means, as 
applied to a statement, without invoking the 
concept of the statement's workings. 

Assume, to fix our ideas, a universe com- 
posed of two things only : imperial Caesar dead 
and turned to clay, and me, saying ‘Csesar 
really existed.’ Most persons would naively 
deem truth to be thereby uttered, and say that 
by a sort of actio in distans my statement had 
taken direct hold of the other fact. 

But have my words so certainly denoted that 
Csesar ? — or so certainly connoted his indi- 
vidual attributes ? To fill out the complete ' 
measure of what the epithet ‘true’ may ideally 
mean, my thought ought to bear a fully deter- 
minate and unambiguous ‘ one-to-one-rela- 

1 Originally printed under the title of ‘Truth versus Truth- 
fulness,’ in the Journal of Philosophy . 

221 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

tion’ to its own particular object. In the ultra- 
simple universe imagined the reference is un- 
certified. Were there two Caesars we should n’t 
know which was meant. The conditions of 

truth thus seem incomplete in this universe 

* 

of discourse so that it must be enlarged. 

Transcendentalists enlarge it by invoking 
an absolute mind which, as it owns all the facts, 
can sovereignly correlate them. If it intends 
that my statement shall refer to that identical 
Caesar, and that the attributes I have in mind 
shall mean his attributes, that intention suf- 
fices to make the statement true. 

I, in turn, enlarge the universe by admitting 
finite intermediaries between the two original 
facts. Caesar had, and my statement has, ef- 
fects; and if these effects in any way run to- 
gether, a concrete medium and bottom is pro- 
vided for the determinate cognitive relation, 
which, as a pure actio in distans, seemed to 
float too vaguely and unintelligibly. 

The real Caesar, for example, wrote a man- 
uscript of which I see a real reprint, and say 
‘the Caesar I mean is the author of that.’ The 



THE EXISTENCE OF C^SAR 

workings of my thought thus determine both 
its denotative and its connotative significance 
more fully. It now defines itself as neither 
irrelevant to the real Caesar, nor false in what 
it suggests of him. The absolute mind, seeing 
me thus working towards Csesar through the 
cosmic intermediaries, might well say: ‘Such 
workings only specify in detail what I meant 
myself by the statement being true. T decree 
the cognitive relation between the two original 
facts to mean that just that kind of concrete 
chain of intermediaries exists or can exist.’ 

But the chain involves facts prior to the 
statement the logical conditions of whose truth 
we are defining, and facts subsequent to it; 
and this circumstance, coupled with the vul- 
gar employment of the terms truth and fact as 
synonyms, has laid my account open to misap- 
prehension. ‘ How,’ it is confusedly asked, * can 
Caesar’s existence, a truth already 2000 years 
old, depend for its truth on anything about to 
happen now? How can my acknowledgment 
of it be made true by the acknowledgment’s 
own effects ? The effects may indeed confirm 

223 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

my belief, but the belief was made true already 
by the fact that Csesar really did exist.* 

Well, be it so, for if there were no Csesar, 
there could, of course, be no positive truth 
about him — but then distinguish between 
‘true* as being positively and completely so 
established, and ‘true’ as being so only ‘prac- 
tically,’ elliptically, and by courtesy, in the 
sense of not being positively irrelevant or un- 
true. Remember also that Csesar’s having ex- 
isted in fact may make a present statement 
false or irrelevant as well as it may make it 

true, and that in neither case does it itself 

» 

have to alter. It being given, whether truth, 
untruth, or irrelevancy shall be also given de- 
pends on something coming from the state- 
ment itself. What pragmatism contends for is 
that you cannot adequately define the some- 
thing if you leave the notion of the statement’s 
functional workings out of your account. 
Truth meaning agreement with reality, the 
mode of the agreeing is a practical problem 
which the subjective term of the relation 
alone can solve. 


224 



THE EXISTENCE OP CJESAR 

Note. This paper was originally followed by a couple of para- 
graphs meant to conciliate the intellectualist opposition. Since 
you love the word ‘true* so, and since you despise so the con- 
crete working of our ideas, I said, keep the word 6 truth’ for 
the saltatory and incomprehensible relation you care so much 
for, and I will say of thoughts that know their objects in an 
intelligible sense that they are ‘truthful.’ 

Like most offerings, this one has been spurned, so I revoke 
it, repenting of my generosity. Professor Pratt, in his recent 
book, calls any objective state of facts ‘a truth,’ and uses the 
word 4 trueness ’ in the sense of ‘truth’ as proposed by me. Mr. 
Hawtrey (see below, page 281) uses ‘correctness’ in the same 
sense. Apart from the general evil of ambiguous vocabularies, 
we may really forsake all hope, if the term ‘truth’ is officially 
to lose its status as a property of our beliefs and opinions, and 
become recognized as a technical synonym for ‘fact.’ 



XI 


THE ABSOLUTE AND THE 
STRENUOUS LIFE 1 

Professor W. A. Brown, in the Journal for 
August 15, approves my pragmatism for allow- 
ing that a belief in the absolute may give holi- 
days to the spirit, but takes me to task for the 
narrowness of this concession, and shows by 
striking examples how great a power the same 
belief may have in letting loose the strenuous 
life. 

I have no criticism whatever to make upon 
his excellent article, but let me explain why 
‘moral holidays’ were the only gift of the ab- 
solute which I picked out for emphasis. I was 
primarily concerned in my lectures with con- 
trasting the belief that the world is still in pro- 
cess of making with the belief that there is an 
‘eternal’ edition of it ready-made and com- 
plete. The former, or ‘pluralistic’ belief, was 
the one that my pragmatism favored. Both 


1 Reprinted from the Journal of Philosophy, etc., 1906. 



ABSOLUTE AND STRENUOUS LIFE 

beliefs confirm our strenuous moods. Plural- 
ism actually demands them, since it makes 
the world’s salvation depend upon the ener- 
gizing of its several parts, among which we 
are. Monism permits them, for however furi- 
ous they may be, we can always justify our- 
selves in advance for indulging them by the 
thought that they will have been expressions of 
the absolute’s perfect life. By escaping from 
your finite perceptions to the conception of the 
eternal whole, you can hallow any tendency 
whatever. Tho the absolute dictates nothing, 
it will sanction anything and everything after 
the fact, for whatever is once there will 
have to be regarded as an integral member of 
the universe’s perfection. Quietism and frenzy 
thus alike receive the absolute’s permit to 
exist. Those of us who are naturally inert 
may abide in our resigned passivity; those 
whose energy is excessive may grow more reck- 
less still. History shows how easily both quiet- 
ists and fanatics have drawn inspiration from 
the absolutistic scheme. It suits sick souls and 
strenuous ones equally well. 

227 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

One cannot say thus of pluralism. Its world 
is always vulnerable, for some part may go 
astray; and having no ‘eternal’ edition of it 
to draw comfort from, its partisans must al- 
ways feel to some degree insecure. If, as plu- 
ralists, we grant ourselves moral holidays, they 
can only be provisional breathing-spells, in- 
tended to refresh us for the morrow’s fight. 
This forms one permanent inferiority of plu- 
ralism from the pragmatic point of view. *It 
has no saving message for incurably sick souls. 
Absolutism, among its other messages, has 
that message, and is the only scheme that has 
it necessarily. <* That constitutes its chief supe- 
riority and is the source of its religious power. 
That is why, desiring to do it full justice, I 
valued its aptitude for moral-holiday giving 
so highly. Its claims in that way are unique, 
whereas its affinities with strenuousness are less 
emphatic than those of the pluralistic scheme. 

In the last lecture of my book I candidly ad- 
mitted this inferiority of pluralism. It lacks 
the wide indifference that absolutism shows. It 
is bound to disappoint many sick souls whom 

m 



ABSOLUTE AND STRENUOUS LIFE 


absolutism can console. It seems therefore poor 
tactics for absolutists to make little of this ad- 
vantage. The needs of sick souls are surely 
the most urgent; and believers in the absolute 
should rather hold it to be great merit in their 
philosophy that it can meet them so well. 

The pragmatism or pluralism which I de- 
fend has to fall back on a certain ultimate 
hardihood, a certain willingness to live without 
assurances or guarantees. To minds thus will- 
ing to live on possibilities that are not certain- 
ties, quietistic religion, sure of salvation any 
how, has a slight flavor of fatty degeneration 
about it which has caused it to be looked 
askance on, even in the church. Which side 
is right here, who can say? Within religion, 
emotion is apt to be tyrannical ; but philosophy 
must favor the emotion that allies itself best 
with the whole body and drift of all the truths 
in sight. I conceive this to be the more strenu- 
ous type of emotion ; but I have to admit that 
its inability to let loose quietistic raptures is a 
serious deficiency in the pluralistic philosophy 
which I profess. 



XII 


PROFESSOR HUBERT ON 
PRAGMATISM 1 

Professor Marcel Hubert is a singularly 
erudite and liberal thinker (a seceder, I be- 
lieve, from the Catholic priesthood) and an 
uncommonly direct and clear writer. His book 
Le Divin is one of the ablest reviews of the 
general subject of religious philosophy which 
recent years have produced ; and in the small 
volume the title of which is copied above he 
has, perhaps, taken more pains not to do injus- 
tice to pragmatism than any of its numerous 
critics. Yet the usual fatal misapprehension 
of its purposes vitiates his exposition and his 
critique. His pamphlet seems to me to form a 
worthy hook, as it were, on which to hang one 
more attempt to tell the reader what the prag- 
matist account of truth really means. 

1 Reprint from the Journal of Philosophy for December 
3, 1908 (vol. v, p. 689), of a review of Le pragmatisme et ses 
diverses formes anglo-americaines, by Marcel Hebert. (Paris: 
Librairie critique Emile Nourry. 1908. Pp. 105.) 

230 



M. HEBERT ON PRAGMATISM 

M. Hebert takes it to mean what most people 
take it to mean, the doctrine, namely, that 
whatever proves subjectively expedient in the 
way of our thinking is ‘true’ in the absolute 
and unrestricted sense of the word, whether it 
corresponds to any objective state of things 
outside of our thought or not. Assuming this 
to be the pragmatist thesis, M. Hebert opposes 
it at length. * Thought that proves itself to be 
thus expedient may, indeed, have every other 
kind of value for the thinker, he says, but cog- 
nitive value, representative value, jpaleur de 
CQrtnaissance proprement dite, it has not; and 
when it does have a high degree of general 
utility value, this is in every case derived from 
its previous value in the way of correctly repre- 
senting independent objects that have an im- 
portant influence on our lives. Only by thus 
representing things truly do we reap the useful 
fruits. But the fruits follow on the truth, they 
do not constitute it; so M. Hebert accuses 
pragmatism of telling us everything about 
truth except what it essentially is. He admits, 
indeed, that the world is so framed that when 

231 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

men have true ideas of realities, consequential 
utilities ensue in abundance; and no one of 
our critics, I think, has shown as concrete a 
sense of the variety of these utilities as he has ; 
but he reiterates that, whereas such utilities 
are secondary, we insist on treating them as 
primary, and that the connaissance objective 
from which they draw all their being is some- 
thing which we neglect, exclude, and destroy. 
The utilitarian value and the strictly cognitive 
value of our ideas may perfectly well harmon- 
ize, he says — and in the main he allows that 
they do harmonize — but they are not logically 
identical for that. He admits that subjective 
interests, desires, impulses may even have the 
active ‘primacy’ in our intellectual life. Cog- 
nition awakens only at their spur, and follows 
their cues and aims ; yet, when it is awakened, 
it is objective cognition proper and not merely 
another name for the impulsive tendencies 
themselves in the state of satisfaction. The 
owner of a picture ascribed to Corot gets 
uneasy when its authenticity is doubted. He 
looks up its origin and is reassured. But his 

2 32 



M. HEBERT ON PRAGMATISM 


uneasiness does not make the proposition 
false, any more than his relief makes the pro-, 
position true, that the actual Corot was the 
painter. , Pragmatism, which, according to 
M. Hebert, claims that our sentiments make 
truth and falsehood, would oblige us to con- 
clude that our minds exert no genuinely cogni- 
tive function whatever. 

This subjectivist interpretation of our posi- 
tion seems to follow from my having happened 
to write (without supposing it necessary to 
explain that I was treating of cognition solely 
on its subjective side) that in the long run the 
true is the expedient in the way of our thinking, 
much as the good is the expedient in the way of 
our behavior ! Having previously written that 
truth means ‘agreement with reality,’ and in- 
sisted that the chief part of the expediency of 
any one opinion is its agreement with the rest 
of acknowledged truth, I apprehended no 
exclusively subjectivistic reading of my mean- 
ing. My mind was so filled with the notion of 
objective reference that I never dreamed that 
my hearers would let go of it; and the very last 

233 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

accusation I expected was that in speaking of 
ideas and their satisfactions, I was denying 
realities outside. My only wonder now is that 
critics should have found so silly a personage 
as I must have seemed in their eyes, worthy of 
explicit refutation. 

The object, for me, is just as much one part 
of reality as the idea is another part. The truth 
of the idea is one relation of it to the reality, 
just as its date and its place are other relations. 
All three relations consist of intervening parts 
of the universe which can in every particular 
case be assigned and catalogued, and which 
differ in every instance of truth, just as they 
differ with every date and place. 

The pragmatist thesis, as Dr. Schiller and I 
hold it, — I prefer to let Professor Dewey speak 
for himself, — is that the relation called ‘ truth* 
is thus concretely definable. Ours is the only 
articulate attempt in the field to say positively 
what truth actually consists of. Our de- 
nouncers have literally nothing to oppose to it 
as an alternative. For them, when an idea is 
true, it is true, and there the matter terminates, 

234 



M. HEBERT ON PRAGMATISM 


the word ‘ true’ being indefinable. The relation 
of the true idea to its object, being, as they 
think, unique, it can be expressed in terms of 
nothing else, and needs only to be named for 
any one to recognize and understand it. More- 
over it is invariable and universal, the same in 
every single instance of truth, however diverse 
the ideas, the realities, and the other relations 
between them may be. 

Our pragmatist view, on the contrary, is that 
the truth-relation is a definitely expei'ienceable 
relation, and therefore describable as well as 
namable; that it is not unique in kind, and 
neither invariable nor universal. The relation 
to its object that makes an idea true in any 
given instance, is, we say, embodied in inter- 
mediate details of reality which lead towards 
the object, which vary in every instance, and 
which in every instance can be concretely 
traced. The chain of workings which an 
opinion sets up is the opinion’s truth, false- 
hood, or irrelevancy, as the case may be. 
Every idea that a man has works some conse- 
quences in him, in the shape either of bodily 

235 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

actions or of other ideas. Through these conse- 
quences the man’s relations to surrounding 
realities are modified. He is carried nearer to 
some of them and farther from others, and 
gets now the feeling that the idea has worked 
satisfactorily, now that it has not. The idea 
has put him into touch with something that 
fulfils its intent, or it has not. 

This something is the man’s object, pri- 
marily. Since the only realities we can talk 
about are such objects-believed-in, the pragma- 
tist, whenever he says ‘reality,’ means in the 
first instance what may count for the man him- 
self as a reality, what he believes at the mo- 
ment to be such. Sometimes the reality is a 
concrete sensible^presence. The idea, for ex- 
ample, may be that a certain door opens into a 
room where a glass of beer may be bought. If 
opening the door leads to the actual sight and 
taste of the beer, the man calls the idea true. 
Or his idea may be that of an abstract relation, 
say of that between the sides and the hypothe- 
nuse of a triangle, such a relation being, of 
course, a reality quite as much as a glass of 

236 



M. HUBERT ON PRAGMATISM 

beer is. If the thought of such a relation leads 
him to draw ajj^ciliary lines and to compare the 
figures they make, he may at last, perceiving 
one equality after another, see the relation 
thought of, by a vision quite as particular and 
direct as was the taste of the beer. If he does 
so, he calls that idea, also, true. His idea has, 
in each case, brought him into closer touch 
with a reality felt at the moment to verify just 
that idea. Each reality verifies and validates 
its own idea exclusively ; and in each case the 
verification consists in the satisfactorily-ending 
consequences, mental or physical, which the 
idea was able to set up. These ‘workings’ 
differ in every single instance, they never tran- 
scend experience, they consist of particulars, 
mental or sensible, and they admit of con- 
crete description in every individual case. 
Pragmatists are unable to see what you can 
possibly mean by calling an idea true, unless 
you mean that between it as a terminus a quo 
in some one’s mind and some particular reality 
as a terminus ad quern, such concrete workings 
do or may intervene. Their direction consti- 

237 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


tutes the idea’s reference to that reality, their 
satisfactoriness constitutes its adaptation 
thereto, and the two things together constitute 
the ‘truth’ of the idea for its possessor. With- 
out such intermediating portions of concretely 
real experience the pragmatist sees no ma- 
terials 'out of which the adaptive relation 
called truth can be built up. 

The anti-pragmatist view is that the work- 
ings are but evidences of the truth’s previous 
inherent presence in the idea, and that you 
can wipe the very possibility of them out of 
existence and still leave the truth of the idea as 
solid as ever. But surely this is not a counter- 
theoiy of truth to ours. ' It is the renunciation 
of all articulate theory. It is but a claim to the 
right to call certain ideas true anyhow; and 
this is what I meant above by saying that the 
anti-pragmatists offer us no real alternative, 
and that our account is literally the only posi- 
tive theory extant. What meaning, indeed, can 
an idea’s truth have save its power of adapt- 
ing us either mentally or physically to a reality ? 

How comes it, then, that our critics so uni- 


238 



M. HEBERT ON PRAGMATISM 


formly accuse us of subjectivism, of denying 
the reality’s existence ? It comes, I think, from 
the necessary predominance of subjective lan- 
guage in our analysis. However independent 
and ej€ctive realities may be, we can talk about 
them, in framing our accounts of truth, only as 
so many objects believed-in. But the process of 
experience leads men so continually to super- 
sede their older objects by newer ones which 
they find it more satisfactory to believe in, that 
the notion of an absolute reality inevitably 
arises as a gj&hzbegriff, equivalent to that of 
an object that shall never be superseded, and 
belief in which shall be epigultig. Cognitively 
we thus live under a sort of rule of three : as 
our private concepts represent the sense- 
objects to which they lead us, these being 
public realities independent of the individual, 
so these sense-realities may, in turn, represent 
realities of a hypersensible order, electrons, 
mind-stuff, God, or what not, existing inde- 
pendently of all human thinkers. The notion 
of such final realities, knowledge of which 
would be absolute truth, is an outgrowth of our 

239 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

cognitive experience from which neither prag- 
matists nor anti-pragmatists escape. They 
form an inevitable regulative postulate in every 
one’s thinking. Our notion of them is the most 
abundantly suggested and satisfied of all our 
beliefs, the last to suffer doubt. The difference 
is that our critics use this belief as their sole par- 
adigm, and treat any one who talks of human re- 
alities as if he thought the notion of reality ‘in 
itself ’ illegitimate. Meanwhile, reality-in-itself , 
so far as by them talked of, is only a human ob- 
ject ; they postulate it just as we postulate it ; and 
if we are subjectivists they are so no less. Reali- 
ties in themselves can be there for any one, 
whether pragmatist or anti-pragmatist, only 
by being believed; they are believed only by 
their notions appearing true ; and their notions 
appear true only because they work satisfac- 
torily. Satisfactorily, moreover, for the par- 
ticular thinker’s purpose. There is no idea 
which is the true idea, of anything. Whose is 
the true idea of the absolute? Or to take 
M. Hebert’s example, what is the true idea of a 
picture which you possess ? It is the idea that 

240 



M. HUBERT ON PRAGMATISM 

most satisfactorily meets your present interest. 
The interest may be in the picture’s place, its 
age, its ‘tone/ its subject, its dimensions, its 
authorship, its price, its merit, or what not. If 
its authorship by Corot have been doubted, 
what will satisfy the interest aroused in you at 
that moment will be to have your claim to own 
a Corot confirmed ; but, if you have a normal 
human mind, merely calling it a Corot will not 
satisfy other demands of your mind at the same 
time. For them, to be satisfied, what you learn 
of the picture must make smooth connection 
with what you know of the rest of the system 
of reality in which the actual Corot played his 
part. M. Hebert accuses us of holding that the 
proprietary satisfactions of themselves suffice 
to make the belief true, and that, so far as we 
are concerned, no actual Corot need ever have 
existed. Why we should be thus cut off from 
the more general and intellectual satisfactions, 
I know not ; but whatever the satisfactions may 
be, intellectual or proprietary, they belong to 
the subjective side of the truth-relation. They 
found our beliefs ; our beliefs are in realities ; 

241 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

if no realities are there, the beliefs are false; 
but if realities are there, how they can ever 
be known without first being believed; or how 
believed except by our first having ideas of 
them that work satisfactorily, pragmatists find 
it impossible to imagine. They also find it 
impossible to imagine what makes the anti- 
pragmatists’ dogmatic ‘ipse dixit’ assurance 
of reality more credible than the pragmatists’ 
conviction based on concrete verifications. 
M. Hebert will probably agree to this, when 
put in this way, so I do not see our inferiority 
to him in the matter of connaissance propre- 
ment dite. 

Some readers will say that, altho I may 
possibly believe in realities beyond our ideas, 
Dr. Schiller, at any rate, does not. This is a 
great misunderstanding, for Schiller’s doctrine 
and mine are identical, only our expositions 
follow different directions. He starts from the 
subjective pole of the chain, the individual 
with his beliefs, as the more concrete and im- 
mediately given phenomenon. ‘An individual 
242 



M. HUBERT ON PRAGMATISM 


claims his belief to be true/ Schiller says, ‘but 
what does he mean by true ? and how does he 
establish the claim ?’ With these questions we 
embark on a psychological inquiry. To be 
true, it appears, means, for that individual , to 
work satisfactorily for him; and the working 
and the satisfaction, since they vary from case 
to case, admit of no universal description. 
What works is true and represents a reality, 
for the individual for whom it works. If he is 
infallible, the reality is ‘really’ there; if mis- 
taken it is not there, or not there as he thinks 
it. We all believe, when our ideas work satis- 
factorily ; but we don’t yet know who of us is 
infallible; so that the problem of truth and 
that of error are ebenburtig and arise out of the 
same situations. Schiller, remaining with the 
fallible individual, and treating only of reality- 
for-him, seems to many of his readers to ig- 
nore reality-in-itself altogether. But that is 
because he seeks only to tell us how truths are 
attained, not what the content of those truths, 
when attained, shall be. It may *be that the 
truest of all beliefs shall be that in 

243 




. THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

jective realities. It certainly seems the truest, 
for no rival belief is as voluminously satis- 
factory, and it is probably Dr. Schiller’s own 
belief ; but he is not required, for his imme- 
diate purpose, to profess it. Still less is he 
obliged to assume it in advance as the basis 
of his discussion. 

I, however, warned by the ways of critics, 
adopt different tactics. I start from the object- 
pole of the idea-reality chain and follow it in 
the opposite direction from Schiller’s. Antici- 
pating the results of the general truth-processes 
of mankind, I begin with the abstract notion 
of an objective reality. I postulate it, and ask 
on my own account, I vouching for this reality, 
what would make any one else’s idea of it true 
for me as well as for him. But I find no differ- 
ent answer from that which Schiller gives. If 
the other man’s idea leads him, not only to 
believe that the reality is there, but to use it as 
the reality’s temporary substitute, by letting 
it evoke adaptive thoughts and acts similar to 
those which the reality itself would provoke, 
then it is true in the only intelligible sense, true 

244 



M. HUBERT ON PRAGMATISM 


through its particular consequences, and true 
for me as well as for the man. 

My account is more of a logical definition; 
Schiller’s is more of a psychological descrip- 
tion. Both treat an absolutely identical mat- 
ter of experience, only they traverse it in op- 
posite ways. 

Possibly these explanations may satisfy M. 
Hebert, whose little book, apart from the false 
accusation of subjectivism, gives a fairly in- 
structive account of the pragmatist episte- 
mology. 



XIII 


ABSTRACTIONISM AND 
‘RELATIVISMUS’ 

Abstract concepts, such, as elasticity, volu- 
minousness, disconnectedness, are salient as- 
pects of our concrete experiences which we 
find it useful to single out. Useful, because 
we are then reminded of other things that 
offer those same aspects; and, if the aspects 
carry consequences in those other things, we 
can return to our first things, expecting those 
same consequences to accrue. 

To be helped to anticipate consequences is 
always a gain, and such being the help that ab- 
stract concepts give us, it is obvious that their 
use is fulfilled only when we get back again 
into concrete particulars by their means, bear- 
ing the consequences in our minds, and enrich- 
ing our notion of the original objects there- 
withal. 

Without abstract concepts to handle our 
perceptual particulars by, we are like men hop- 

246 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

ping on one foot. Using concepts along with 
the particulars, we become bipedal. We throw 
our concept forward, get a foothold on the con- 
sequence, hitch our line to this, and draw our 
percept up, travelling thus with a hop, skip and 
jump over the surface of life at a vastly rapider 
rate than if we merely waded through the thick- 
ness of the particulars as accident rained them 
down upon our heads. Animals have to do this, 
but men raise their heads higher and breathe 
freely in the upper conceptual air. 

The enormous esteem professed by all phi- 
losophers for the conceptual form of conscious- 
ness is easy to understand. From Plato’s time 
downwards it has been held to be our sole 
avenue to essential truth. Concepts are uni- 
versal, changeless, pure; their relations are 
eternal; they are spiritual, while the concrete 
particulars which they enable us to handle are 
corrupted by the flesh. They are precious in 
themselves, then, apart from their original use, 
and confer new dignity upon our life. 

One can find no fault with this way of feel- 
ing about concepts so long as their original 

347 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

function does not get swallowed up in the ad- 
miration and lost. .That function is of course 
to enlarge mentally our momentary experi- 
ences by adding to them the consequences con- 
ceived ; but unfortunately, that function is not 
only too often forgotten by philosophers in 
their reasonings, but is often converted into its 
exact opposite, and made a means of diminish- 
ing the original experience by denying (im- 1 
plicitly or explicitly) all its features save the 
one specially abstracted to conceive it by. 

This itself is a highly abstract way of stating 
my complaint, and it needs to be redeemed 
from obscurity by showing instances of what 
is meant. Some beliefs very dear to my own 
heart have been conceived in this viciously ab- 
stract way by critics. One is the ‘will to be- 
lieve,’ so called ; another is the indeterminism 
of certain futures; a third is the notion that 
truth may vary with the standpoint of the man 
who holds it. I believe that the perverse abuse 
of the abstracting function has led critics to 
employ false arguments against these doc- 
trines, and often has led their readers too to 

248 



ABSTRACTIONISM 


false conclusions. I should like to try to save 
the situation, if possible, by a few counter- 
critical remarks. 

Let me give the name of ‘vicious abstrac- 
tionism’ to a way of using concepts which may 
be thus described : We conceive a concrete sit- 
uation by singling out some salient or import- 
ant feature in it, and classing it under that; 
then, instead of adding to its previous charac- 
ters all the positive consequences which the new 
way of conceiving it may bring, we proceed 
to use our concept privatively; reducing the 
originally rich phenomenon to the naked sug- 
gestions of that name abstractly taken, treating 
it as a case of ‘nothing but’ that concept, and 
acting as if all the other characters from out 
of which the concept is abstracted were ex- 
punged . 1 Abstraction, functioning in this way, 
becomes a means of arrest far more than a 
means of advance in thought. It rputilates 
things ; it creates difficulties and finds impossi- 

1 Let not the reader confound the fallacy here described 
with legitimately negative inferences such as those drawn in 
the mood ‘celarent’ of the logic-books. 

249 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 

bilities; and more than half the trouble that 
metaphysicians and logicians give themselves 
over the paradoxes and dialectic puzzles of 
the universe may, I am convinced, be traced 
to this relatively simple source. The viciously 
priyative employment of abstract characters and 
class names is, I am persuaded, one of the 

great original sins of the rationalistic mind. 

✓ ' 

To proceed immediately to concrete exam- 
ples, cast a glance at the belief in ‘free will,’ 
demolished with such specious persuasiveness 
recently by the skilful hand of Professor Ful- 
lerton . 1 When a common man says that his will 
is free, what does he mean? He means that 
there are situations of bifurcation inside of his 
life in which two futures seem to him equally 
possible, for both have their roots equally 
planted in his present and his past. Either, if 
realized, will grow out of his previous motives, 
character and circumstances, and will continue 
uninterruptedly the pulsations of his personal 
life. But sometimes both at once are incom- 


1 Popular Science Monthly, N. Y., vols. lviii and lix. 
250 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

patible with physical nature, and then it seems 
to the naive observer as if he made a choice 
between them now, and that the question of 
which future is to be, instead of having been 
decided at the foundation of the world, were 
decided afresh at every passing moment in 
which fact seems livingly to grow, and possi- 
bility seems, in turning itself towards one act, 
to exclude all others. 

He who takes things at their face- value here 
may indeed be deceived. He may far too often 
mistake his private ignorance of what is pre- 
determined for a real indetermination of what 
is to be. Yet, however imaginary it may be, 
his picture of the situation offers no appear- 
ance of breach between the past and future. 
A train is the same train, its passengers are the 

same passengers, its momentum is the same 

y 

momentum, no matter which way the switch 
which fixes its direction is placed. * For the in- 
determinist there is at all times enough past 
for all the different futures in sight, and more 
besides, to find their reasons in it, and which- 
ever future comes will slide out of that past as 

251 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

easily as the train slides by the switch. The 
world, in short, is just as continuous with itself 
for the believers in free will as for the rigorous 
determinists, only the latter are unable to be- 
lieve in points of bifurcation as spots of really 
indifferent equilibrium or as containing shunts 
which there — and there only, not before — 
direct existing motions without altering their 
amount. 

Were there such spots of indifference, the 
rigorous determinists think, the future and the 
past would be separated absolutely, for, ab- 
stractly taken , the word ‘indifferent* suggests 
disconnection solely. Whatever is indifferent is 
in so far forth unrelated and detached. Take 
the term thus strictly, and you see, they tell us, 
that if any spot of indifference is found upon 
the broad highway between the past and the 
future, then no connection of any sort what- 
ever, no continuous momentum, no identical 
passenger, no common aim or agent, can be 
found on both sides of the shunt or switch 
which there is moved. The place is an im- 
passable ch^m. 


252 



ABSTRACTIONISM 


Mr. Fullerton writes — the italics are mine 
— as follows : — 

‘In so far as my action is free, what I have 
been, what I am, what I have always done or 
striven to do, what I most earnestly wish or 
resolve to do at the present moment — these 
things can have no more to do with its future 
realization than if they had no existence. . . . 
The possibility is a hideous one; and surely 
even the most ardent free-willist will, when 
he contemplates it frankly, excuse me for hop- 
ing that if I am free I am at least not very free, 
and that I may reasonably expect to find some 
degree of consistency in my life and actions. 

. . . Suppose that I have given a dollar to a 
blind beggar. Can /, if it is really an act of 
free-will, be properly said to have given the 
money? Was it given because I was a man 
of tender heart, etc., etc. ? . . . What has all 
this to do with acts of free-will? If they are 
free, they must not be conditioned by antece- 
dent circumstances of any sort, by the misery 
of the beggar, by the pity in the heart of the 
passer-by. They must be causeless, not deter- 

253 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

mined. They must drop from a clear sky out 
of the void, for just in so far as they can be 
accounted for, they are not free .’ 1 

Heaven forbid that I should get entangled 
here in a controversy about the rights and 
wrongs of the free-will question at large, for I 
am only trying to illustrate vicious abstraction- 
ism by the conduct of some of the doctrine’s 
assailants. The moments of bifurcation, as 
the indeterminist seems to himself to experi- 
ence them, are moments both of re-direction 
and of continuation. But because in the 
‘either^ — or’ of the re-direction we hesitate, 
the determinist abstracts this little element of 
discontinuity from the superabundant con- 
tinuities of the experience, and cancels in its 
behalf all the connective characters with which 
the latter is filled. Choice, for him, means 
henceforward disconnection pure and simple, 
something undetermined in advance in any 
respect whatever, and a life of choices must 
be a raving chaos, at no two moments of 
which could we be treated as one and the 

1 Loc. cit., vol. lviii, pp. 189, 188. 

254 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

same man. If Nero were ‘free’ at the mo- 
ment of ordering his mother’s murder, Mr. 
McTaggart 1 assures us that no one would 
have the right at any other moment to call 
him a bad man, for he would then be an 
absolutely other Nero. 

A polemic author ought not merely to de- 
stroy his victim. He ought to try a bit to make 
him feel his error — perhaps not enough to 
convert him, but enough to give him a bad 
conscience and to weaken the energy of his 
defence. These violent caricatures of men’s 
beliefs arouse only contempt for the inca- 
pacity of their authors to see the situations out 
of which the problems grow. To treat the 
negative character of one abstracted element as 
annulling all the positive features with which 
it coexists, is no way to change any actual 
indeterminist’s way of looking on the matter, 
tho it may make the gallery applaud. 

Turn now to some criticisms of the ‘ will to 
believe,’ as another example of the vicious way 
1 Some Dogmas of Religion, p. 179. 

255 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

in which abstraction is currently employed. 
The right to believe in things for the truth of 
which complete objective proof is yet lacking 
is defended by those who apprehend certain 
human situations in their concreteness. In 
those situations the mind has alternatives be- 
fore it so vast that the full evidence for either 
branch is missing, and yet so significant that 
simply to wait for proof, and to doubt while 
waiting, might often in practical respects b« 
the same thing as weighing down the negative 
side. Is life worth while at all ? Is there any 
general meaning in all this cosmic weather? 
Is anything being permanently bought by all 
this suffering? Is there perhaps a transmun* 
dane experience in Being, something corre- 
sponding to a ‘ fourth, dimension,’ which, if we 
had access to it, might patch up some of this 
world’s zerrissenheit and make things look 
more rational than they at first appear? Is 
there a superhuman consciousness of which 
our minds are parts, and from which inspira- 
tion and help may come ? Such are the ques- 
tions in which the right to take sides practi- 

256 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

cally for yes or no is affirmed by some of us, 
while others hold that this is methodologically 
inadmissible, and summon us to die professing 
ignorance and proclaiming the duty of every 
one to refuse to believe. 

I say nothing of the personal inconsistency 
of some of these critics, whose printed works 
furnish exquisite illustrations of the will to 
believe, in spite of their denunciations of it as 
a phrase and as a recommended thing. , Mr. 
McTaggart, whom I will once more take as 
an example, is sure that ‘reality is rational 
and righteous’ and ‘destined sub specie tern- 
poris to become perfectly good’; and his call- 
ing this belief a result of necessary logic has 
surely never deceived any reader as to its real 
genesis in the gifted author’s mind. Mankind 
is made on too uniform a pattern for any of us 
to escape successfully from acts of faith. „We 
have a lively vision of what a certain view of 
the universe would mean for us. We kindle or 
we shudder at the thought, and our feeling runs 
through our whole logical nature and animates 
its workings. It can’t be that, we feel ; it must 

257 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

be this. It must be what it ought to be, and it 
ought to be this; and then we seek for every 
reason, good or bad, to make this which so 
deeply ought to be, seem objectively the prob- 
able thing. We show the arguments against 
it to be insufficient, so that it may be true ; we 
represent its appeal to be to our whole nature’s 
loyalty and not to any emaciated faculty of 
syllogistic proof. We reinforce it by remem- 
bering the enlargement of our world by music, 
by thinking of the promises of sunsets and the 
impulses from vernal woods. And the essence 
of the whole experience, when the individual 
swept through it says finally ‘I believe,’ is the 
intense concreteness of his vision, the individ- 
uality of the hypothesis before him, and the 
complexity of the various concrete motives 
and perceptions that issue in his final state. 

But see now how the abstractionist treats 
this rich and intricate vision that a certain 
state of things must be true. He accuses the 
believer of reasoning by the following syllo- 
gism : — 

All good desires must be fulfilled; 

258 



ABSTRACTIONISM 


The desire to believe this proposition is a 
good desire; 

Ergo, this proposition must be believed. 

He substitutes this abstraction for the con- 
crete state of mind of the believer, pins the 
naked absurdity of it upon him, and easily 
proves that any one who defends him must be 
the greatest fool on earth. As if any real be- 
liever ever thought in this preposterous way, 
or as if any defender of the legitimacy of men’s 
concrete ways of concluding ever used the 
abstract and general premise, ‘All desires 
must be fulfilled’ ! Nevertheless, Mr. McTag- 
gart solemnly and laboriously refutes the syl- 
logism in sections 47 to 57 of the above-cited 
book. He shows that there is no fixed link in 
the dictionary between the abstract concepts 
‘desire,’ ‘goodness’ and ‘reality’; and he 
ignores all the links which in the single con- 
crete case the believer feels and perceives to 
be there ! He adds : — 

‘When the reality of a thing is uncertain, the 
argument encourages us to suppose that our 
approval of a thing can determine its reality. 

259 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

And when this unhallowed link has once been 
established, retribution overtakes us. For 
when the reality of the thing is independently 
certain, we [then] have to admit that the reality 
of the thing should determine our approval of 
that thing. I find it difficult to imagine a more 
degraded position.’ 

One here feels tempted to quote ironically 
Hegel’s famous equation of the real with the 
rational to his english disciple, who ends his 
chapter with the heroic words : — 

‘ For those who do not pray, there remains 
the resolve that, so far as their strength may 
permit, neither the pains of death nor the pains 
of life shall drive them to any comfort in that 
which they hold to be false, or drive them 
from any comfort [discomfort ?] in that which 
they hold to be true.’ 

How can so ingenious-minded a writer fail to 
see how far over the heads of the enemy all his 
arrows pass ? When Mr. McTaggart himself 
believes that the universe is run by the dialectic 
energy of the absolute idea, his insistent desire 
to have a world of that sort is felt by him to be 

260 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

no chance example of desire in general, but an 
altogether peculiar insight-giving 'passion to 
which, in this if in no other instance, he would 
be stupid not to yield. He obeys its concrete 
singularity, not the bare abstract feature in it 
of being a ‘ desire.’ His situation is as particu- 
lar as that of an actress who resolves that it is 
best for her to marry and leave the stage, of a 
priest who becomes secular, of a politician who 
abandons public life. What sensible man 
would seek to refute the concrete decisions of 
such persons by tracing them to abstract 
premises, such as that ‘all actresses must 
marry,’ ‘all clergymen must be laymen,’ ‘all 
politicians should resign their posts’ ? Yet 
this type of refutation, absolutely unavailing 
though it be for purposes of conversion, is 
spread by Mr. McTaggart through many 
pages of his book. For the aboundingness of 
our real reasons he substitutes one narrow 
point. For men’s real probabilities he gives a 
skeletonized abstraction which no man was 
ever tempted to believe. 

The abstraction in my next example is less 
261 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

simple, but is quite as flimsy as a weapon of 
attack. Empiricists think that truth in general 
is distilled from single men’s beliefs ; and the 
so-called pragmatists ‘go them one better’ by 
trying to define what it consists in when it 
comes. It consists, I have elsewhere said, in 
such a working on the part of the beliefs as 
may bring the man into satisfactory relations 
with objects to which these latter point. The 
working is of course a concrete working in 
the actual experience of human beings, among 
their ideas, feelings, perceptions, beliefs and 
acts, as well as among the physical things of 
their environment, and the relations must be 
understood as being possible as well as actual. 
In the chapter on truth of my book Pragma- 
tism I have taken pains to defend energetically 
this view. Strange indeed have been the mis- 
conceptions of it by its enemies, and many have 
these latter been. Among the most formidable- 
sounding onslaughts on the attempt to intro- 
duce some concreteness into our notion of what 
the truth of an idea may mean, is one that has 
been raised in many quarters to the effect that 

262 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

to make truth grow in any way out of human 
opinion is but to reproduce that protagorean 
doctrine that the individual man is * the meas- 
ure of all things/ which Plato in his immortal 
dialogue, the Thseatetus, is unanimously said to 
have laid away so comfortably in its grave two 
thousand years ago. The two cleverest bran- 
dishers of this objection to make truth concrete. 
Professors Rickert and Mtinsterberg, write in 
German , 1 and ‘relativismus’ is the name they 
give to the heresy which they endeavor to 
uproot. 

The first step in their campaign against 
‘relativismus’ is entirely in the air. They 
accuse relativists — and we pragmatists are 
typical relativists — of being debarred by their 
self-adopted principles, not only from the 
privilege which rationalist philosophers enjoy, 
of believing that these principles of their own 
are truth impersonal and absolute, but even of 
fra min g the abstract notion of such a truth, 
in the pragmatic seme, of an ideal opinion in 

1 Munsterberg’s boob has just appeared in an english 
version: The Eternal Values, Boston, 1909. 

263 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


which all men might agree, and which no man 
should ever wish to change. Both charges fall 
wide of their mark. I myself, as a pragmatist, 
believe in my own account of truth as firmly as 
any rationalist can possibly believe in his. 
And I believe in it for the very reason that I 
have the idea of truth which my learned adver- 
saries contend that no pragmatist can frame. 
I expect, namely, that the more fully men dis- 
cuss and test my account, the more they will 
agree that it fits, and the less will they desire a 
change. I may of course be premature in this 
confidence, and the glory of being truth final 
and absolute may fall upon some later revision 
and correction of my scheme, which latter 
will then be judged untrue in just the measure 
in which it departs from that finally satisfac- 
tory formulation. To admit, as we pragmatists 
do, that we are liable to correction (even tho 
we may not expect it) involves the use on our 
part of an ideal standard. Rationalists them- 
selves are, as individuals, sometimes scepti- 
cal enough to admit the abstract possibility of 
their own present opinions being corrigible and 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

revisable to some degree, so the fact that 
the mere notion of an absolute standard should 
seem to them so important a thing to claim for 
themselves and to deny to us is not easy to 
explain. If, along with the notion of the stand- 
ard, they could also claim its exclusive war- 
rant for their own fulminations now, it would 
be important to them indeed. But absolutists 
like Rickert freely admit the sterility of the 
notion, even in their own hands. Truth is 
what we ought to believe, they say, even tho 
no man ever did or shall believe it, and even 
tho we have no way of getting at it save by 
the usual empirical processes of testing our 
opinions by one another and by facts. Prag- 
matically, then, this part of the dispute is idle. 
No relativist who ever actually walked the 
earth 1 has denied the regulative character in 
his own thinking of the notion of absolute 

1 Of course the bugaboo creature called ‘the sceptic’ in the 
logic-books, who dogmatically makes the statement that no 
J statement, not even the one he now makes, is true, is a mere 
mechanical toy-target for the rationalist shooting-gallery — 
hit him and he turns a summersault — yet he is the only sort 
of relativist whom my colleagues appear able to imagine to 
exist. 


265 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


truth. What is challenged by relativists is the 
pretence on any one’s part to have found for 
certain at any given moment what the shape 
of that truth is. Since the better absolutists 
agree in this,* admitting that the proposition 
‘There is absolute truth’ is the only absolute 
truth of which we can be sure , 1 further de- 
bate is practically unimportant, so we may 
pass to their next charge. 

It is in this charge that the vicious abstrac- 
tionism becomes most apparent. The anti- 
pragmatist, in postulating absolute truth, re- 
fuses to give any account of what the words 
may mean. For him they form a self-explana- 
tory term. The pragmatist, on the contrary, 
articulately defines their meaning. '•Truth ab- 

1 Compare Rickert’s Gegenstand der Erhentniss , pp. 137, 
138. Munsterberg’s version of this first truth is that 4 Es gibt 
eine Welt,’ — see his Pkilosopkie der Werte, pp. 38 and 74. 
And, after all, both these philosophers confess in the end that 
the primal truth of which they consider our supposed denial 
so irrational is not properly an insight at all, but a dogma 
adopted by the will which any one who turns his back on duty 
may disregard I But if it all reverts to c the will to believe/ 
pragmatists have that privilege as well as their critics. 

m 



ABSTRACTIONISM 


solute, lie says, means an ideal set of formu- 
lations towards which, all opinions may in the 
long run of experience be expected to converge. 
In this definition of absolute truth he not only 
postulates that there is a tendency to such con- 
vergence of opinions, to such ultimate con- 
sensus, but he postulates the other factors of 
his definition equally, borrowing them by an- 
ticipation from the true conclusions expected 
to be reached. He postulates the existence of 
opinions, he postulates the experience that 
will sift them, and the consistency which that 
experience will show. He justifies himself in 
these assumptions by saying that they are not 
postulates in the strict sense but simple in- 
ductions from the past extended to the future 
by analogy ; and he insists that human opin- 
ion has already reached a pretty stable equi- 
librium regarding them, and that if its future 
development fails to alter them, the defini- 
tion itself, with all its terms included, will 
be part of the very absolute truth which it 
defines. The hypothesis will, in short, have 
worked successfully all round the circle and 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


proved self-corroborative, and the circle will 
be closed. 

The anti-pragmatist, however, immediately 
falls foul of the word ‘opinion’ here, abstracts 
it from the universe of life, and uses it as a 
bare dictionary-substantive, to deny the rest 
of the assumptions which it coexists withal. 
The dictionary says that an opinion is ‘what 
some one thinks or believes.’ This definition 
leaves every one’s opinion free to be autoge- 
nous, or unrelated either to what any one else 
may think or to what the truth may be. 
Therefore, continue our abstractionists, we 
must conceive it as essentially thus unrelated, 
so that even were a billion men to sport the 
same opinion, and only one man to differ, we 
could admit no collateral circumstances which 
might presumptively make it more probable 
that he, not they, should be wrong. Truth, 
they say, follows not the counting of noses, 
nor is it only another name for a majority vote. 
It is a relation that antedates experience, be- 
tween our opinions and an independent some- 
thing which the pragmatist account ignores, 

268 



ABSTRACTIONISM 


a relation which, tho the opinions of individ- 
uals should to all eternity deny it, would still 
remain to qualify them as false. To talk of 
opinions without referring to this independent 
something, the anti-pragmatist assures us, is to 
play Hamlet with Hamlet’s part left out. 

But when the pragmatist speaks of opin- 
ions, does he mean any such insulated and un- 
motived abstractions as are here supposed? 
Of course not, he means men’s opinions in the 
flesh, as they have really formed themselves, 
opinions surrounded by their causes and the 
influences they obey and exert, and along with 
the whole environment of social communica- 
tion of which they are a part and out of which 
they take their rise. Moreover the ‘experience’ 
which the pragmatic definition postulates is 
the independent something which the anti- 
pragmatist accuses him of ignoring. Already 
have men grown unanimous in the opinion 
that such experience is ‘of’ an independent 
reality, the existence of which all opinions must 
acknowledge, in order to be true. Already do 
they agree that in the long run it is useless to 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

resist experience’s pressure ; that the more of it 
a man has, the better position he stands in, in 
respect of truth ; 'that some men, having had 
more experience, are therefore better authori- 
ties than others; that some are also wiser by 
nature and better able to interpret the experi- 
ence they have had ; that it is one part of such 
wisdom to compare notes, discuss, and fol- 
low the opinion of our betters; and that the 
more systematically and thoroughly such com- 
parison and weighing of opinions is pursued, 
the truer the opinions that survive are likely to 
be. When the 'pragmatist talks of opinions, it 
is opinions as they thus concretely and livingly 
and interactingly and correlatively exist that 
he has in mind; and when the anti-pragmatist 
tries to floor him because the word ‘opinion’ 
can also be taken abstractly and as if it had 
no environment, he simply ignores the soil out 
of which the whole discussion grows. His 
weapons cut the air and strike no blow. No one 
gets wounded in the war against caricatures 
of belief and skeletons of opinion of which the 

German onslaughts upon ‘relativismus’ con- 

270 



ABSTRACTIONISM 

sists. Refuse to use the word ‘opinion’ ab- 
stractly, keep it in its real environment, and 
the withers of pragmatism remain unwrung. 

That men do exist who are ' opinionated,’ in 
the sense that their opinions are self-willed, is 
unfortunately a fact that must be admitted, 
no matter what one’s notion of truth in gen- 
eral may be. But that this fact should make it 
impossible for truth to form itself authentically 
out of the life of opinion is what no critic has 
yet proved. Truth may well consist of certain 
opinions, and does indeed consist of nothing 
but opinions, tho not every opinion need be 
true. No pragmatist needs to dogmatize about 
the consensus of opinion in the future being 
right — he need only 'postulate that it w'ill 
probably contain more of truth than any one’s 
opinion now. 



XIY 


TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

Mb. Bertrand Russell’s article entitled 
‘Transatlantic Truth/ 1 has all the clearness, 
dialectic subtlety, and wit which one expects 
from his pen, but it entirely fails to hit the 
right point of View for apprehending our posi- 
tion. When, for instance, we say that a true 
proposition is one the consequences of believ- 
ing which are good, he assumes us to mean 
that any one who believes a proposition to be 
true must first have made out clearly that its 
consequences are good, and that his belief must 
primarily be in that fact, — an obvious absurd- 
ity, for that fact is the deliverance of a new 
proposition, quite different from the first one 
and is, moreover, a fact usually very hard to 
verify, it being ‘far easier/ as Mr. Russell 
justly says, ‘to settle the plain question of 
fact: “Have popes always been infallible?” 
than to settle the question whether the effects 

1 In the Albany Review for January, 1908. 

272 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

of thinking them infallible are on the whole 
good.’ 

We affirm nothing as silly as Mr. Russell sup- 
poses. Good consequences are not proposed by 
us merely as a sure sign, mark, or criterion, by 
which truth’s presence is habitually ascertained, 
tho they may indeed serve on occasion as such a 
sign ; they are proposed rather as the lurking 
motive inside of every truth-claim, whether the 
‘trower’ be conscious of such motive, or whether 
he obey it blindly. They are proposed as the 
causa existendi of our beliefs, not as their log- 
ical cue or premise, and still less as their ob- 
jective deliverance or content. They assign the 
only intelligible practical meaning to that differ- 
ence in our beliefs which our habit of calling 
them true or false comports. 

No truth-claimer except the pragmatist him- 
self need ever be aware of the part played in 
his own mind by consequences, and he himself 
is aware of it only abstractly and in general, 
and may at any moment be quite oblivious of 
it with respect to his own beliefs. 

Mr. Russell next joins the army of those 
273 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

who inform their readers that according to the 
pragmatist definition of the word ‘truth’ the 
belief that A exists may be ‘true/ even when 
A does not exist. This is the usual slander, 
repeated to satiety by our critics. They forget 
that in any concrete account of what is de- 
noted by ‘truth’ in human life, the word can 
only be used relatively to some particular 
trower. Thus, I may hold it true that Shake- 
spere wrote the plays that bear his name, and 
may express my opinion to a critic. If the 
critic be both a pragmatist and a baconian, he 
will in his capacity of pragmatist see plainly 
that the workings of my opinion, I being what 
I am, make it perfectly true for me, while in 
his capacity of baconian he still believes that 
Shakespere never wrote the plays in question. 
But most anti-pragmatist critics take the word 
‘truth’ as something absolute, and easily play 
on their reader’s readiness to treat his own 
truths as the absolute ones. If the reader whom 
they address believes that A does not exist, while 
we pragmatists show that those for whom the 
belief that it exists works satisfactorily will al- 

274 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

ways call it true, he easily sneers at the naivete 
of our contention, for is not then the belief in 
question ‘true,’ tho what it declares as fact 
has, as the reader so well knows, no existence ? 
Mr. Russell speaks of our statement as an ‘ at- 
tempt to get rid of fact’ and naturally enough 
considers it ‘ a failure ’ (p. 410) . ‘ The old notion 
of truth reappears,’ he adds — that notion being, 
of course, that when a belief is true, its object 
does exist. 

It is, of course, bound to exist, on sound 
pragmatic principles. Concepts signify con- 
sequences. How is the world made different 
for me by my conceiving an opinion of mine 
under the concept ‘true’? First, an object 
must be findable there (or sure signs of such 
an object must be found) which shall agree 
with the opinion. Second, such an opinion 
must not be contradicted by anything else I 
am aware of. But in spite of the obvious prag- 
matist requirement that when I have said truly 
that something exists, it shall exist, the slander 
which Mr. Russell repeats has gained the 
widest currency. 


275 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


Mr. Russell himself is far too witty and 
athletic a ratiocinator simply to repeat the 
slander dogmatically. Being nothing if not 
mathematical and logical, he must prove the 
accusation secundum, artem, and convict us 
not so much of error as of absurdity. I have 
sincerely tried to follow the windings of his 
mind in this procedure, but for the life of me 
I can only see in it another example of what I 
have called (above, p. 249) vicious abstrac- 
tionism. The abstract world of mathematics 
and pure logic is so native to Mr. Russell that 
he thinks that we describers of the functions 
of concrete fact must also mean fixed mathe- 
matical terms and functions. A mathematical 
term, as a, b, c, x, y, sin., log., is self-sufficient, 
and terms of this sort, once equated, can be 
substituted for one another in endless series 
without error. Mr. Russell, and also Mr. Haw- 
trey, of whom I shall speak presently, seem to 
think that in our mouth also such terms as 
‘meaning,’ ‘truth,’ ‘belief,’ ‘object,’ ‘defini- 
tion,’ are self-sufficients with no context of 
varying relation that might be further asked 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 


about. What a word means is expressed by its 
definition, is n’t it ? The definition claims to 
be exact and adequate, doesn’t it? Then it 
can be substituted for the word — since the 
two are identical — can’t it ? Then two words 
with the same definition can be substituted for 
one another, n’est-ce pas ? Likewise two defi- 
nitions of the same word, nicht wahr, etc., etc., 
till it will be indeed strange if you can’t con- 
vict some one of self-contradiction and ab- 
surdity. 

The particular application of this rigoristic 
treatment to my own little account of truth as 
working seems to be something like what fol- 
lows. I say ‘working’ is what the ‘truth’ of 
our ideas means, and call it a definition. But 
since meanings and things meant, definitions 
and things defined, are equivalent and inter- 
changeable, and nothing extraneous to its defi- 
nition can be meant when a term is used, it fol- 
lows that whoso calls an idea true, and means by 
that word that it works, cannot mean anything 
else, can believe nothing but that it does work, 
and in particular can neither imply nor allow 

277 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

anything about its object or deliverance. ‘Ac- 
cording to the pragmatists/ Mr. Russell writes, 
‘to say “it is trute that other people exist” 
means “ it is useful to believe that other peo- 
ple exist.” But if so, then these two phrases 

« 

are merely different words for the same pro- 
position; therefore when I believe the one I 
believe the other’ (p. 400). [Logic, I may say 
in passing, would seem to require Mr. Russell 
to believe them both at once, but he ignores this 
consequence, and considers that ‘ other people 
exist’ and ‘it is useful to believe that they do 
even if they don't,’ must be identical and there- 
fore substitutable propositions in the pragma- 
tist mouth.] 

But may not real terms, I now ask, have ac- 
cidents not expressed in their definitions ? and 
when a real value is finally substituted for the 
result of an algebraic series of substituted 
definitions, do not all these accidents creep 
back? Beliefs have their objective ‘content’ 
or ‘deliverance’ as well as their truth, and 
truth has its implications as well as its work- 
ings. If any one believe that other men exist, 

278 



TWO ENGLISH] CRITICS 

it is both a content of his belief and an impli- 
cation of its truth, that they should exist in 
fact. Mr. Russell’s logic would seem to ex- 
clude, ‘by definition,’ all such accidents as 
contents, implications, and associates, and 
would represent us as translating all belief into 
a sort of belief in pragmatism itself — of all 
things ! If I say that a speech is eloquent, and 
explain ‘eloquent’ as meaning the power to 
work in certain ways upon the audience ; or if 
I say a book is original, and define ‘original’ 
to mean differing from other books, Russell’s 
logic, if I follow it at all, would seem to doom 
me to agreeing that the speech is about elo- 
quence, and the book about other books. When 
I call a belief true, and define its truth to mean 
its workings, I certainly do not mean that the 
belief is a belief about the workings. It is a 
belief about the object, and I who talk about 
the workings am a different subject, with a 
different universe of discourse, from that of 
the believer of whose concrete thinking I pro- 
fess to give an account. 

The social proposition ‘other men exist* 
279 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


and the pragmatist proposition ‘ it is expedient 
to believe that other men exist’ come from dif- 
ferent universes of discourse. One can believe 
the second without being logically compelled 
to believe the first; one can believe the first 
without having ever heard of the second; or 
one can believe them both. The first expresses 
the object of a belief, the second tells of one 
condition of the belief’s power to maintain it- 
self. There is no identity of any kind, save the 
term ‘other men’ which they contain in com- 
mon, in the two propositions; and to treat 
them as mutually substitutable, or to insist that 
we shall do so, is to give up dealing with reali- 
ties altogether. 

Mr. Ralph Hawtrey, who seems also to serve 
under the banner of abstractionist logic, con- 
victs us pragmatists of absurdity by argu- 
ments similar to Mr. Russell’s . 1 

As a favor to us and for the sake of the ar- 
gument, he abandons the word ‘true’ to our 
fury, allowing it to mean nothing but the fact 

1 See The New Quarterly, for March, 1908. 

280 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

that certain beliefs are expedient; and he uses 
the word ‘correctness’ (as Mr. Pratt uses the 
word ‘trueness’) to designate a fact, not about 
the belief, but about the belief’s object, namely 
that it is as the belief declares it. * When there- 
fore,’ he writes, ‘I say it is correct to say that 
Caesar is dead, I mean “ Caesar is dead.” This 
must be regarded as the definition of correct- 
ness.’ And Mr. Hawtrey then goes on to de- 
molish me by the conflict of the definitions. 
What is ‘true’ for the pragmatist cannot be 
what is ‘correct,’ he says, ‘for the definitions 
are not logically interchangeable; or if we in- 
terchange them, we reach the tautology : 
“ Caesar is dead” means “it is expedient to be- 
lieve that Caesar is dead.” But what is it expe- 
dient to believe ? Why, “ that Caesar is dead.” ’ 
A precious definition indeed of ‘Caesar is 
dead.’ 

Mr. Hawtrey’s conclusion would seem to be 
that the pragmatic definition of the truth of a 
belief in no way implies — what ? — that the 
believer shall believe in his own belief’s de- 
liverance ? — or that the pragmatist who is 

281 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


talking about him shall believe in that deliver- 
ance? The two cases are quite different. For 
the believer, Caesar must of course really ex- 
ist; for the pragmatist critic he need not, for 
the pragmatic deliverance belongs, as I have 
just said, to another universe of discourse al- 
together. When one argues by substituting 
definition for definition, one needs to stay in 
the same universe. 

The great shifting of universes in this dis- 
cussion occurs when we carry the word ‘truth’' 
from the subjective into the objective realm, 
applying it sometimes to a property of opin-. 
ions, sometimes to the facts which the opin- 
ions assert. A number of writers, as Mr. Rus- 
sell himself, Mr. G. E. Moore, and others, 
favor the unlucky word ‘proposition,’ which 
seems expressly invented to foster this confu- 
sion, for they speak of truth as a property of 
‘propositions.’ But in naming propositions it 
is almost impossible not to use the word ‘ that.’ 
That Caesar is dead, that virtue is its own re- 
ward, are propositions. 

I do not say fljat for certain logical purposes 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

it may not be useful to treat propositions as 
absolute entities, with truth or falsehood inside 
of them respectively, or to make of a complex 
like ‘that-Cassar-is-dead’ a single term and 
call it a ‘truth.’ But the ‘that’ here has the 
extremely convenient ambiguity for those who 
wish to make trouble for us pragmatists, that 
sometimes it means the fact that, and some- 
times the belief that, Caesar is no longer living. 
When I then call the belief true, I am told that 
•the truth means the fact ; when I claim the fact 
also, I am told that my definition has excluded 
the fact, being a definition only of a certain 
peculiarity in the belief — so that in the end 
I have no truth to talk about left in my 
possession. 

The only remedy for this intolerable am- 
*biguity is, it seems to me, to stick to terms con- 
sistently. ‘ Reality,’ ‘ idea ’ or ‘ belief,’ and the 
‘truth of the idea or belief,’ which are the 
terms I have consistently held to, seem to be 
free from all objection. 

Whoever takes .terms abstracted from all 
their natural settings, identifies them with 

283 



THE MEANING OP TRUTH 


definitions, and treats the latter more algebraico , 
not only risks mixing universes, but risks 
fallacies which the man in the street easily 
detects. To prove ‘by definition’ that the 
statement ‘Csesar exists’ is identical with a 
statement about ‘expediency’ because the one 
statement is ‘ true’ and the other is about ‘ true 
statements,’ is like proving that an omnibus is a 
boat because both are vehicles. A horse may be 
defined as a beast that walks on the nails of his 
middle digits. Whenever we see a horse we see' 
such a beast, just as whenever we believe a 
‘ truth’ we believe something expedient. Messrs. 
Russell andHawtrey, if they followed their anti- 
pragmatist logic, would have to say here that 
we see that it is such a beast, a fact which 
notoriously no one sees who is not a compar- 
ative anatomist. 

It almost reconciles one to being no logician 
that one thereby escapes so much abstraction- 
ism. Abstractionism of the worst sort dogs 
Mr. Russell in his own trials to tell positively 
what the word ‘truth’ means. In the third of 
his articles on Meinong, in Mind, vol. xiii. 



TWO ENGLISH CRITICS 

p. 509 (1904), he attempts this feat by limiting 
the discussion to three terms only, a proposi- 
tion, its content, and an object, abstracting 
from the whole context of associated realities 
in which such terms are found in every case of 
actual knowing. He puts the terms, thus taken 
in a vacuum, and made into bare logical en- 
tities, through every possible permutation and 
combination, tortures them on the rack until 
nothing is left of them, and after all this logical 
•gymnastic, comes out with the following por- 
tentous conclusion as what he believes to be 
‘the correct view: that there is no problem at 
all in truth and falsehood, that some proposi- 
tions are true and some false, just as some 
roses are red and some white, that belief is a 
certain attitude towards propositions, which 
is called knowledge when they are true, error 
when they are false’ — and he seems to think 
that when once this insight is reached the ques- 
tion may be considered closed forever ! 

In spite of my admiration of Mr. Russell’s 
analytic powers, I wish, after reading such an 
article, that pragmatism, even had it no other 
285 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

function, might result in making him and other 
similarly gifted men ashamed of having used 
such powers in such abstraction from reality. 
Pragmatism saves us at any rate from such 
diseased abstractionism as those pages show. 

P. S. Since the foregoing rejoinder was writ- 
ten an article on Pragmatism which I believe 
to be by Mr. Russell has appeared in the Edin- 
burgh Review for April, 1909. As far as his dis- 
cussion of the truth-problem goes, altho he has 
evidently taken great pains to be fair, it seems 
to me that he has in no essential respect im- 
proved upon his former arguments. I will 
therefore add nothing further, but simply refer 
readers who may be curious to pp. 2 72-280 
of the said article. 



XV 


A DIALOGUE 

After correcting the proofs of all that pre- 
cedes I imagine a residual state of mind on the 
part of my reader which may still keep him 
unconvinced, and which it may be my duty to 
try at least to dispel. I can perhaps be briefer 
if I put what I have to say in dialogue form. 
Let then the anti-pragmatist begin : — 
Anti-Pragmatist: — You say that the truth 
of an idea is constituted by its workings. 
Now suppose a certain state of facts, facts 
for example of antediluvian planetary history, 
concerning which the question may be asked : 
‘Shall the truth about them ever be known?’ 
And suppose (leaving the hypothesis of an 
omniscient absolute out of the account) that 
we assume that the truth is never to be known. 
I ask you now, brother pragmatist, whether 
according to you there can be said to be any 
truth at all about such a state of facts. Is 

287 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 

there a truth, or is there not a truth, in 
cases where at any rate it never comes to 
be known ? 

Pragmatist: — Why do you ask me such a 
question ? 

Anti-Prag.: — Because I think it puts you 
in a bad dilemma. 

Prag.: — How so ? 

Anti-Prag.: — Why, because if on the one 
hand you elect to say that there is a truth, you 
thereby surrender your whole pragmatist the- 
ory. According to that theory, truth requires 
ideas and workings to constitute it ; but in the 
present instance there is supposed to be no 
knower, and consequently neither ideas nor 
workings can exist. What then remains for 
you to make your truth of ? 

Prag.: — Do you wish, like so many of 
my enemies, to force me to make the truth 
out of the reality itself? I cannot: the truth 
is something known, thought or said about 
the reality, and consequently numerically 
additional to it. But probably your intent 
is something different; so before I say 

288 



A DIALOGUE 


which horn of your dilemma I choose, I ask 
you to let me hear what the other horn 
may be. 

Anti-Prag.: — The other horn is this, that 
if you elect to say that there is no truth under 
the conditions assumed, because there are no 
ideas or workings, then you fly in the face 
of common sense. * Does n’t common sense 
believe that every state of facts must in the 
nature of things be truly statable in some kind 
of a proposition, even tho in point of fact the 
proposition should never be propounded by 
a living soul ? 

Prag.: — Unquestionably common sense be- 
lieves this, and so do I. There have been 
innumerable events in the history of our planet 
of which nobody ever has been or ever will be 
able to give an account, yet of which it can 
already be said abstractly that only one sort 
of possible account can ever be true. The truth 
about any such event is thus already generically 
predetermined by the event’s nature ; and one 
may accordingly say with a perfectly good 
conscience that it virtually pre-exists. Corn- 

289 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


mon sense is thus right in its instinctive con- 
tention. 

Anti-Prag.: — Is this then the horn of the 
dilemma which you stand for ? * Do you say 
that there is a truth even in cases where it shall 
never be known ? 

Prag.: — Indeed I do, provided you let me 
hold consistently to my own conception of 
truth, and do not ask me to abandon it for 
something which I find impossible to compre- 
hend. — You also believe, do you not, that there 
is a truth, even in cases where it never shall be 
known? 

Anti-Prag.: — I do indeed believe so. 

Prag.: — Pray then inform me in what, ac- 
cording to you, this truth regarding the un- 
known consists. 

Anti-Prag.: — Consists ? — pray what do 
you mean by * consists’ ? It consists in nothing 
but itself, or more properly speaking it has 
neither consistence nor existence, it obtains, 
it holds. 

Prag.: — Well, what relation does it bear to 
the reality of which it holds ? 

390 



A DIALOGUE 


Anti-Prag .: — How do you mean, ‘what 
relation’ ? It holds of it, of course; it knows 
it, it represents it. 

Prag.: — Who knows it ? What represents 
it? 

Anti-Prag.: — The truth does ; the truth 
knows it; or rather not exactly that, but any 
one knows it who possesses the truth. Any 
true idea of the reality represents the truth 
concerning it. 

Prag.: — But I thought that we had agreed 
that no knower of it, nor any idea representing 
it was to be supposed. 

Anti-Prag.: — Sure enough ! 

Prag.: — Then I beg you again to tell me 
in what this truth consists, all by itself, this 
tertium quid intermediate between the facts 
per se, on the one hand, and all knowledge of 
them, actual or potential, on the other. What 
is the shape of it in this third estate ? Of what 
stuff, mental, physical, or ‘epistemological,’ 
is it built ? What metaphysical region of reality 
does it inhabit? 

Anti-Prag . : — What absurd questions ! Is n’t 
291 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


it enough to say that it is true that the facts 
are so-and-so, and false that they are other- 
wise? 

Prag. : — ‘It ’ is true that the facts are so-and- 
so — I won’t yield to the temptation of asking 
you what is true; but I do ask you whether 
your phrase that ‘it is true that’ the facts are 
so-and-so really means anything really addi- 
tional to the bare being so-and-so of the facts 
themselves. 

Anti-Prag.: — It seems to mean more than ' 
the bare being of the facts. It is a sort of men- 
tal equivalent for them, their epistemological 
function, their value in noetic terms. 

Prag .: — A sort of spiritual double or ghost 
of them, apparently! If so, may I ask you 
where this truth is found. 

Anti-Prag.: — Where? where? There is no 
‘where’ — it simply obtains, absolutely obtains. 

Prag.: — Not in any one’s mind? 

Anti-Prag.: — No, for we agreed that no 
actual knower of the truth should be assumed. 

Prag.: — No actual knower, I agree. But 
are you sure that no notion of a potential or 



A DIALOGUE 


ideal knower has anything to do with forming 
this strangely elusive idea of the truth of the 
facts in your mind ? 

Anti-Prag.: — Of course if there be a truth 
concerning the facts, that truth is what the ideal 
knower would know. To that extent you can’t 
keep the notion of it and the notion of him 
separate. But it is not him first and then it; 
it is it first and then him, in my opinion. 

Prag.: — But you still leave me terribly puz- 
zled as to the status of this so-called truth, 
hanging as it does between earth and heaven, 
between reality and knowledge, grounded in 
the reality, yet numerically additional to it, and 
at the same time antecedent to any knower’s 
opinion and entirely independent thereof. Is 
it as independent of the knower as you suppose ? 
It looks to me terribly dubious, as if it might be 
only another name for a potential as distin- 
guished from an actual knowledge of the real- 
ity. Isn’t your truth, after all, simply what 
any successful knower would have to know in 
case he existed? And in a universe where no 
knowers were even conceivable would any 

293 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


truth about the facts there as something nu- 
merically distinguishable from the facts them- 
selves, find a place to exist in ? To me such 
truth would not only be non-existent, it would 
be unimaginable, inconceivable. 

Anti-Prag.: — But I thought you said a 
while ago that there is a truth of past events, 
even tho no one shall ever know it. 

Prag.: — Yes, but you must remember that 
I also stipulated for permission to define the 
word in my own fashion. The truth of an 
event, past, present, or future, is for me only 
another name for the fact that if the event ever 
does get known, the nature of the knowledge 
is already to some degree predetermined. 
The truth which precedes actual knowledge 
of a fact means only what any possible knower 
of the fact will eventually find himself necessi- 
tated to believe about it. He must believe some- 
thing that will bring him into satisfactory rela- 
tions with it, that will prove a decent mental 
substitute for it. What this something may be 
is of course partly fixed already by the nature of 
the fact and by the sphere of its associations. 



A DIALOGUE 


This seems to me all that you can clearly 
mean when you say that truth pre-exists to 
knowledge. It is knowledge anticipated, know- 
ledge in the form of possibility merely. 

Anti-Prag.: — But what does the know- 
ledge know when it comes ? Does n’t it know 
the truth ? And, if so, must n’t the truth be 
distinct from either the fact or the knowledge ? 

Prag. : — It seems to me that what the know- 
ledge knows is the fact itself, the event, or 
whatever the reality may be. Where you see 
three distinct entities in the field, the reality, 
the knowing, and the truth, I see only two. 
Moreover, I can see what each of my two en- 
tities is knoum-as, but when I ask myself what 
your third entity, the truth, is known-as, I can 
find nothing distinct from the reality on the 
one hand, and the ways in which it may be 
known on the other. Are you not probably 
misled by common language, which has found 
it convenient to introduce a hybrid name, 
meaning sometimes a kind of knowing and 
sometimes a reality known, to apply to either 
of these things interchangeably? And has 

2 95 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


philosophy anything to gain by perpetuating 
and consecrating the ambiguity? If you call 
the object of knowledge ‘ reality,’ and call the 
manner of its being cognized ‘ truth,’ cognized 
moreover on particular occasions, and vari- 
ously, by particular human beings who have 
their various businesses with it, and if you hold 
consistently to this nomenclature, it seems to 
me that you escape all sorts of trouble. 

Anti-Prag.: — Do you mean that you think 
you escape from my dilemma ? 

Prag.: — Assuredly I escape; for if truth 
and knowledge are terms correlative and in- 
terdependent, as I maintain they are, then 
wherever knowledge is conceivable truth is con- 
ceivable, wherever knowledge is possible truth 
is possible, wherever knowledge is actual 
truth is actual. Therefore when you point 
your first horn at me, I think of truth actual , 
and say it doesn’t exist. -It doesn’t; for by 
hypothesis there is no knower, no ideas, no 
workings. I agree, however, that truth possible 
or virtual might exist, for a knower might pos- 
sibly be brought to birth ; and truth conceivable 

296 



A DIALOGUE 


certainly exists, for, abstractly taken, there is 
nothing in the nature of antediluvian events 
that should make the application of knowledge 
to them inconceivable. Therefore when you 
try to impale me on your second horn, I think 
of the truth in question as a mere abstract 
possibility, so I say it does exist, and side with 
common sense. 

Do not these distinctions rightly relieve me 
from embarrassment? And don’t you think 
it might help you to make them yourself ? 

Anti-Prag. : — N ever ! — so avaunt with your 
abominable hair-splitting and sophistry ! Truth 
is truth; and never will I degrade it by iden- 
tifying it with low pragmatic particulars in the 
way you propose. 

Prag.: — Well, my dear antagonist, I hardly 
hoped to convert an eminent intellectualist 
and logician like you; so enjoy, as long as you 
live, your own ineffable conception. Perhaps 
the rising generation will grow up more ac- 
customed than you are to that concrete and 
empirical interpretation of terms in which 
the pragmatic method consists. Perhaps they 

297 



THE MEANING OF TRUTH 


may then wonder how so harmless and natu- 
ral an account of truth as mine could have 
found such difficulty in entering the minds of 
men far more intelligent than I can ever hope 
to become, but wedded by education and tra- 
dition to the abstractionist manner of thought.